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Jewish-Muslim alliance formed against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia

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(RNS) The day after President-elect Donald Trump appointed a man accused of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as his chief strategist, two of the nation’s largest Jewish and Muslim advocacy groups formed an unprecedented partnership to fight bigotry.

The American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America Monday (Nov. 14) launched the new national group: The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council. Though Jewish and Muslim groups have cooperated before, the size and influence of these two particular groups — and the prominence of the people who have joined the council — marks a milestone in Jewish-Muslim relations. 

“Our council is coming at the right time,” said Eftakhar Alam, senior coordinator at ISNA’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances.

“We have to show the administration that as American Muslims and Jews — people of the faiths of Abraham — we are uniting to help the administration navigate in the proper constitutional manner, to uphold freedom of religion and constitutional rights for all American citizens.”

The idea for the council was hatched months before last week’s election, when pollsters and much of the country were convinced that Trump would lose. But even had Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won, said Alam and others, the vitriol of the election calls for such a coming together of Muslims and Jews.

Separately, Jewish and Muslim groups have expressed outrage over Trump’s appointment Sunday of Stephen K. Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counselor. Bannon edited Breitbart News, a right-wing website popular among those who embrace alt-right views, and who fan hostility toward Muslims, Jews, immigrants and other minorities.

The new council may give Muslims and Jews a way to critique Trump and his advisers’ rhetoric and policy with a single voice. Members of both groups worry that the campaign revealed deeper seams of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in America than many had realized.

“The Council’s formation shows that American Muslim and Jewish leadership are now working together, focused on domestic developments. This is a first and is good news for the entire country,” said Robert Silverman, AJC director of Muslim-Jewish relations.

As he ran for president, Trump called for restrictions on Muslim immigration. His campaign ads trafficked in what racism watchdogs said were anti-Semitic tropes. And some Trump supporters, at rallies and on social media, blamed Muslims, Jews and other minorities for the nation’s ills.

Among the goals set by the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council at their first meeting: to combat bigotry against Muslims and Jews in the U.S., to highlight each group’s contributions to American society and to protect the rights of other religious minorities.

Members of the new council include clergy, businesspeople and current and former government officials. Among them: former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman; Imam Mohamed Magid, All Dulles Area Muslim Society; Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles’ Sinai Temple; Farooq Kathwari, president and CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly; and Imam Talib M. Shareef of The Nation’s Mosque, Masjid Muhammad.

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

174 Comments

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  • Are we to hope that the muslim tear these pages out of the Quran?
    Quran (9:30) – “And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!” Quran (3:56) – “As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.”
    Quran (3:151) – “Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority”
    Quran (4:89) – “They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks.”
    Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”
    And on, and on….

  • Sandi,
    First, unless you are a Muslim or have picked up your knowledge of the Qu’ran from somewhere other than an Internet anti-Muslim website, you are choosing to not understand the verses’ meaning. If you want to use verses to slam Muslims, then I think that you also have a responsibility to actually know what the verses mean rather than cherry-picking based on a personal agenda. Here is a discussion of the meaning of the first verse cited. http://almadinainstitute.org/blog/the-quran-the-jews-and-ezra-as-the-son-of-god/ You might find it interesting.

    I am sure though that there are those who are Muslim literalists just as there are Christian literalists but I am not sure that it is worth suggesting that an entire religion tear out the pages of either the Qu’ran or Bible.

  • The Bible is worse.

    GOD Commands Genocide:
    “I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy.” (JER 13:14)
    “Now go and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not, but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling.” (1 Samuel 15:3)

    Religions are not only untrue. They needlessly spread depravity.

  • “Religious Moderate” = Someone who cherry picks around the worst commands in their religion.”

    I’m all for Religious moderates working together. Another word for it is humanism. Why do they bother going back to their divisive churches and mosques after having a peaceful meeting ? I never get that part.

  • Your criticisms are more properly directed at dogma than at religion. Dogma is the notion that one’s own belief system is the absolute and unquestionable truth, and that those who do not share those beliefs are inferior. This is a mindset that can be found among religious fundamentalists and aggressive atheists alike. Religion is often corrupted by dogma, but there is no reason why it must be. History’s great spiritual leaders – Jesus, Buddha, and Gandhi to name a few – all preached against dogmatic thinking. They emphasized the primacy of personal experience and conscience, and that truth and redemption are accessible to everyone.

  • Nope. All religions are One. Some adherents who have not yet had a spiritual epiphany may be divisive.

  • Let’s hope this new cooperation leads to a two state solution in the Middle East even though such a solution rewards Zionists for their 135 year old creeping invasion of Palestine.

  • “It would be an excellent idea to call in respectable, accredited anti-Semites as liquidators of property. To the people they would vouch for the fact that we do not wish to bring about the impoverishment of the countries that we leave. At first they must not be given large fees for this; otherwise we shall spoil our instruments and make them despicable as ‘stooges of the Jews.’ Later their fees will increase, and in the end we shall have only Gentile officials in the countries from which we have emigrated. The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.” (The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl. Vol. 1, edited by Raphael Patai, translated by Harry Zohn, page 83-84)

  • 9:30: Oh no!! They disagree with you on the subject of Jesus!! How terrible!!

    3:56, 3:151: Wow!! You mean they believe that thing your own religion teaches??

    4:89: So two things “Don’t ally with the people who demand you to believe what they believe.” That’s sound advice. Taking into account 4:90, 4:88, and the rest of the surrounding verses and history for context, the rest is essentially “If the people we have a truce with violate the truce than fight and kill them, but if they offer peace take it.” Now some people might be pacifistic enough to think you shouldn’t even fight someone attacking you, but I personally think this standard is reasonable.

    8:12: With 8:9-11, we have a story where God sends some angels to protect people in the Battle of Badr. Personally, a dude who lends you an army to defeat your enemy when they have attacked are attempting to slaughter you seems like a pretty good guy to me. Do you prefer a God that would let his people be killed by an attacking army?? Did God not do something similar for Moses when the Egyptian army attacked??

  • All labels are divisive. Ethnic, gender, national, all labels divide one group from another. Even the label “atheist” is a linguistic division from the group of “theists”.

    From my perspective, it seems like you’re pretty divisive too.

  • Linda…
    What would be your “interpretation” of the Muslim conquest of Europe? Don’t think that was very peaceful. Imagine all of those beautiful White women taken into slavery as sex slaves…..wonder what they thought of their fate.

  • “Humanism” is a label, and therefore divisive. Only a rejection of the divide between is and is not can truly be Unity.

  • Thank you for your ‘best I could do’ analysis. Perhaps you should try humour the next time. Blessings

  • Aragon, where you make your error – the quote from the quran are present day, the quotes you listed are the history of God protecting His people and the fact that islam is a cult of it’s own.

  • Or the 200 girls who have been kidnapped from the school who report being raped as they have been released.
    Or the children who were burned to death in a house because they were Christians….and on, and on.
    Just another one today… http://www.charismanews.com/world/61281-muslims-abduct-christian-teens-for-forced-child-marriages
    and another today….http://www.premier.org.uk/News/World/Pakistan-Christians-burnt-alive-still-no-convictions-two-years-on

  • Northern, all religions are not one. Muslim hate Jews and Christians, but then, that would be admitting that islam is a religion, when it is just a cult.

  • For an alternative view of this topic, see what you think about the theories presented in — “Who is Esau Edom” by Charles Weisman. A free pdf is available. Just google it. Cheers.

  • I MADE NO ERROR!

    1. None of these gods appear to be real.
    2. The Q’uran was written in 600 C.E. – not ‘current day’!
    3. Yahweh’s commands to slaughter WERE ENDORSED BY JESUS
    4. Jesus is far worse than Yahweh

    “BRING TO ME THOSE ENEMIES OF MINE AND EXECUTE THEM IN FRONT OF ME” – JESUS (LUKE 19:27)

  • Now, you just need to learn about parables. Would you like me to look the word up in a dictionary for you?

  • Where is your evidence religions are “One”?
    If it were true the world would not be in the middle of a dozen wars!

    “Bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me for a king and execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)
    “Slay them All” – Allah (Surah 9.2)
    “Kill all non-believers – Yahweh (Deuteronomy)

  • “Religion is often corrupted by dogma…”

    Religion is a subset of dogma. Not the other way around.

    ” Jesus, Buddha, and Gandhi to name a few – all preached against dogmatic thinking.”

    Wrong. Your lack of knowledge is the problem here. JESUS is the most dogmatic of all:

    Jesus was hopelessly Dogmatic

    Jesus the fascist:
    “Believe or be condemned” – JESUS (Mark 16:16)
    “If you do not remain in me you are.. a branch thrown away…to be burned in the fire.” -JESUS (John 15:6)
    “Execute my enemies in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    Jesus the dogmatic bigot:
    “They are dogs!” – JESUS (Matthew 15:26)
    “they are swine!” – JESUS (Matthew 7:6)

    Jesus the dogmatic totalitarian dictator:
    “You are either with me or against me” – JESUS (Matthew 12:30)

    Jesus the Mafia Godfather’s Enforcer:
    “I have not come to abolish the laws…”- (Matthew 5:17)
    “..not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commands of Moses and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” – JESUS (Matthew 5:18-19 )

    Jesus the Dogmatic Authoritarian:
    ” I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” – JESUS (LUKE 10:19)

    Jesus the dogmatic Capitalist Pig
    ” ‘you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” – JESUS (Matthew 25:27)

    Jesus the dogmatic Bully
    “He made a whip of chords..” (John 2:5)
    “He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple.” – Mark 11:16

    Jesus the dogmatic slave Master
    “the slave shall be whipped severely”- JESUS (Luke 12:47-48)
    hmm…but no punishment for the slave owner?

    Buddism is not a religion so much as a philosophy – but Theraveda Buddhism is dogmatic.
    Ghandi was a political leader and most likely an Atheist.

  • I taught the Bible for 8 years when I was a Christian. But don’t take my word for it!

    “EXECUTE THEM IN FRONT OF ME” – JESUS (19:27)

    “THE NOBLEMAN OF THE PARABLE IS JESUS HIMSELF:
    They who will not have Him to reign over them will learn that He does reign”

    Ellicot’s commentary on the Bible

    “it more especially relates to the far more terrible execution which shall be done on all impenitent sinners in the great day, when the faithful servants of Christ shall be rewarded.”
    BENSON’S COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE.

    “refers to the avowed punishment to the enemies of Christ”
    – Matthew Henry’s Commentary

    ” the punishment of those who would not that he should reign over them is denoted the ruin that was to come upon the Jewish nation for rejecting the Messiah, and also upon all sinners for not receiving him as their king.”
    – BARNE’S NOTES ON THE BIBLE

    “REFERS TO the final destruction of all that are found in open rebellion against Christ.”
    – JAMIESSON – FAUSSET-BROWN BIBLE COMMENTARIES

    “But those mine enemies,…. Meaning particularly the Jews, who were enemies to the person of Christ, and hated and rejected him, as the King Messiah”
    – GILL’S EXPOSITION OF THE ENTIRE BIBLE

    And on and on…..

    http://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/19-27.htm

    http://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/19-27.htm

  • I think we are talking about two different things. Maybe just try reading a few pages of Who is Esau – Edom to find out what I am referring to. I’m not questioning your Spirituality.

  • Outstanding! It’s wonderful that these 2 groups can work together to support America’s religious freedom laws and offer lessons in tolerance and acceptance. This example also gives the lie to the idea that Jews and Muslims can’t peacefully cooperate. I wonder what affect this will have on the Middle East?

  • I was thinking about that too. I think it might set a good example and many Israeli citizens will welcome it. Netanyahu, the hawk, is not very popular among a large swath of Israelis. He’s Israel’s GWB/Darth Cheney. Netanyahu and ISIL will oppose this wonderful Jewish/Muslim alliance. That alone indicates it’s probably a good thing.

  • nope. Christ wishes that none should perish but that all should come to repentance. You can try to understand by researching the term “parable”. It would help you considerably.

  • You appear to hold a myopic limited version of history which is littered with the slaughter of innocents up to the present time. Christians don’t get a pass either.

  • You need an education:

    SOME OF THE WORST LESSONS OF JESUS:

    JESUS – I WILL DISMEMBER PEOPLE WITH A SWORD
    “The master shall cut him to pieces” – Jesus (Luke 12)
    JESUS describes what he intends to do to his own enemies.

    JESUS – I SHALL RETURN TO EXECUTE MY ENEMIES
    “..bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King, and execute them in front of me.” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    JESUS – COMMIT PREEMPTIVE VIGILANTE MURDER
    “BETTER if he were (preemptively) drowned with a millstone” – JESUS (Matt 18:6)

    JESUS – KILL YOUR CHILDREN THE WAY GOD TOLD YOU TO
    “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? …. ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ ” – JESUS (Matthew 15:3)

    JESUS – YOU MUST JUDGE OTHERS HARSHLY
    “…if they are unworthy..REMOVE your blessing of peace.” – JESUS (Matt 10:13)

    JESUS – I CAME TO BURN UP THE WORLD AND BRING ANARCHY
    “I have come to bring FIRE…What constraints! I am impatient to bring NOT PEACE BUT ANARCHY.” – Jesus (Luke 12:49-51)

    JESUS – HATE THOSE WHO LOVE YOU
    “Hate your parents…hate your life or you are not worthy of me” – Jesus (Luke 14:26)

    JESUS – I’M A MAFIA GODFATHER. DO WHAT I SAY, OR I’LL BURN YOU ALIVE.
    “Eat of my body” and “Be baptized and believe” or “Be condemned to Hell” – Jesus (John 6:53-54) (Mark 16:16).

    JESUS – I WILL KILL THE CHILDREN MYSELF
    “I shall kill her children with Death” – Jesus (REV. 2:23)

    JESUS – I WANT YOU TO LIVE IN A HOUSE FULL OF ENEMIES
    “Brother will betray brother to death for me, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death…for ME.” – JESUS (Matthew 10:21)

    JESUS – I’M HERE TO RUIN YOUR LIFE AND ALL THAT YOU LOVE
    “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his daughter, and a daughter against her mother, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.” – JESUS (Matthew 10:35)

    JESUS – JUDGE OTHERS FOR GOD’S WRATH!
    “And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet AS A TESTIMONY AGAINST THEM.” – JESUS (Luke 9:3-5)

    JESUS ENDORSED the stoning laws – He rejected any change to the stoning laws of Moses.
    JESUS – KEEP ALL 500 STONING LAWS AS GOD COMMANDS
    “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commands of Moses and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” – JESUS (Matthew 5:18-19 RSV)

    JESUS – STONE THESE PEOPLE TO DEATH:
    “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law” – JESUS (Matthew 5:18-19)
    Gays
    Inhabitants of conquered cities
    Victims of rape
    People who work on Sunday
    Infidels
    Prostitutes
    Uncircumcised men
    Men who have sex with women who are menstruating
    Ignorers of Priests
    Ignorers of Sacraments
    people who drink blood
    People who eat peace offering

    and on and on.

  • lol so, instead of helping yourself, you resort to other misinterpretations. Please tell IHATECHRISTIANS.com that they still don’t have it right. You too

  • Get over your pious self! I was a Christian for 49 years – just because you are afraid of the truth does not mean I hate Christians.

    Religions are just ideas – that is all they are! And ideas do not have rights all by themselves.
    Instead of being a crybaby you should read the constitution!

    “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion nor prohibit the free exercise therof” – US Constitution

    I hate cancer – NOT CANCER PATIENTS!
    Don’t make me explain obvious things.

  • Nope, you were not a Christian, but do represent yourself with lies and half truths.

    1 John 2: 19 These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.
    You couldn’t understand the simple things I was showing you. I know you cannot understand the obvious, so how can I help you to understand anything else? blessings.

  • So what would a verbal stoning be ? Or you could set them ablaze with criticism .
    I sometimes use the words snot nosed little brats when i see comments like ?

    Have you read the verse about turning the other cheek ? Matthew 5:39
    I have and i’ve seen that Jesus never told anyone to be a doormat for snot nosed little brats.

    And if they’re arrogant enough to hit someone a second time i’d say that the following verses tells me to take off my coat and go the distance with him and give him a thorough whoopin .
    Why ? I bet he would give more thought before hitting someone else.

    And that also comes from experience.

    Why not get a life and grow up.

  • “get a life and grow up”

    Your support of faith-based activities like suicide bombing and forced genital mutilation is duly noted.
    Now how about you go back to grandmother’s house and let us grown ups take it from here? thanks.

  • I’ve read some of your other comments. A click on the user name .
    You make claims of being educated and even pat yourself on the back for it. Many are educated a few enlightened .

    So why cant educated people control their thoughts ? And i’d be willing to bet most of them cant even control their right hand. It’s called a foot problem.

    Foot , euphemism,
    Dictionary.

    In the future let it be the lips of another that sings your praises and not your own mouth.

  • Your personal attacks against me are accumulating. Yet I only attacked your ridiculous god – who thankfully is a work of primitive fiction.

    GOD: I BLESS YOUR RAPING OF THE CAPTURED VIRGINS
    “THE LORD SAID TO MOSES: YOUR SOLDIERS HAVE WON 32,000 VIRGINS in battle AS YOUR SPOIL – GIVE ME SOME (Kill them) AND KEEP THE REST FOR YOUR PLEASURE” – GOD
    (Numbers 31:31-40)

    I could throw up reading about this god.

  • This is obviously not right but you seem to consider these acts to be a representation of an entire religion. You appear to deny the reality and culpability of Christians for carrying out atrocities as well. For instance, there is the ethnic cleansing of 6000 Muslims carried out by Christian militias in the Central African Republic and further back (1990’s) the Rwandan genocide carried out by dominantly Christians (including clergy) with some militias named the Army of Jesus and where the use of rape was doubly significant in terms of spreading of HIV among the population. If Christians can deny such actions as not being true Christianity, then surely Muslims get to denounce extremism as not being the teachings of their faith.

  • So two wrongs make a right? Is that what you are trying to say? Christianity doesn’t condone murder, islam does.
    Rwanda was two tribes. The first, I’ve never heard of.

  • I guess you didnt say i need an education. A discreet way of saying dolt ? I guess you dont like when someone turns the tables.

  • If you are so much smarter than me (as you keep saying) why don’t you show me where you god is?
    Cut to the chase!!! Where is your God?
    Go ahead and kill off my Atheism by proving your are right.

  • And now you have revealed a lack of discernment , another side effect of the foot problem
    along with numerous sicknesses.

    Discernment is having the ability to grasp or comprehend with the mind or the sense that which is obscure to the average mind. But you wont find that in a common dictionary.

    What happens when clay pot meets iron kettle ?

    If you have a use for both i wouldn’t bang them together .

  • It is not my job as an Atheist to make sense of your god’s hate speech. It is abundantly clear how much hate your god has for humanity:

    God says, DAUGHTERS ADD ONLY FILTH TO THE MOTHER
    “A woman who gives birth to a daughter shall be twice as filthy as one who gives birth to a son” – Yahweh (Leviticus 12:1-5)

  • Good day i have no desire to kindle your fire.

    I’ve seen some are best left alone,

    to consume themselves.

  • Regarding your statement that “Religion is a subset of dogma, not the other way around.” – I don’t know how you define religion, but I define it as belonging to a community who support each other in their spiritual growth, and who have a shared set of symbols, rituals, and stories to aid their spiritual growth. There is absolutely no reason that this definition must include dogma.

    Regarding your claim that Jesus was a dogmatist – you are ignoring most of what Jesus taught, and you are taking these select quotes out of context in order to paint a false picture of his teaching. Like you, I was told as a child that Jesus taught that we must believe in him in order to be saved. Then as a young adult I did an in-depth study of everything that Jesus said in the Gospels about salvation, and I found that dogmatists in the church have completely misrepresented his teaching. The vast majority of verses in which Jesus talks about salvation make the point that we are saved by showing compassion and forgiveness to others. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy – Judge not, that you be not judged – Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” Many of Jesus’ parables make the point that God forgives anyone who sincerely repents their sins, and that God shows mercy to those who show mercy to others. They contain no suggestion that forgiveness and mercy are only available to people who hold to a certain belief system. The verses that have been interpreted to mean that only Christians can be saved are relatively few, and they are open to interpretation. For example, when Jesus says “You are either with me or against me”, is he saying “You must be a Christian to be saved”, or is he saying “You either support my message of universal love or you do not”? When we look at the totality of his teachings, the latter interpretation makes more sense.

    Regarding your statement that “Buddhism is not so much a religion as a philosophy”: You are making a circular argument. First you claim that religion is inherently dogmatic; then you claim that if a spiritual system is not dogmatic, we should not call it a religion, but a philosophy. The fact is that most Buddhists regard Buddhism as a religion, and take a decidedly non-dogmatic approach to it.

    Regarding your claim that Gandhi was a “political leader and probably an atheist”: Gandhi’s own writings make it very clear that he considered himself a religious devotee and a seeker of spiritual truth first and foremost. His political activities were secondary to his spiritual quest, and he regarded nonviolent resistance to political injustice as a religious duty.

  • “Believe in me or be condemned to Hell” – JESUS (Mark 16:16)

    If you have rejected this claim by Jesus then you have made the major concession.

    For many centuries we would not have been able to have this conversation without risking our lives. You seem to not know this.
    Religion must come to us with a weak smiley face because it has had to give up so much ground thanks to science, education and the internet.
    But I will not forget what Religion can do where it is strong!

    “Only believe” – Mohammed Atta

    Religion is more a source of depravity than a source of good.

  • And with that fire I shall smoke a goat for the Lord:

    “Then burn the entire ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the LORD, a pleasing aroma, an offering made to the LORD by fire.” GOD (Exodus 29:18)

  • The exact wording of Mark 16:16 is “He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned.” I know, at first blush it sounds pretty dogmatic. But you are reading these words through the lens of nearly 2000 years of dogmatic interpretation. We have all been conditioned to think that the word “believe” in this verse means ascribing to the the church’s rigid understanding of Christianity, that “condemned” means being thrown into a lake of fire for all eternity, and “saved” means being rescued from that lake of fire. But if we look at the verse in the context of the overall message that Jesus taught – which emphasizes that love is the ultimate victor over brute force – then the real meaning behind the verse becomes clear. It means “Those who accept my message of universal love will know God’s presence, while those who reject that message will be cut off from God’s presence.”

    Furthermore, religion has lost nothing to science, because religion deals with a completely different set of questions than science deals with. Science is a marvelous tool for understanding the workings of the physical world. But it teaches us nothing about finding meaning and sacredness in the world.

    Finally, I am very much aware of the harm that religion can do when it is corrupted by dogma. Having once worked as an aid worker in Nigeria, I saw that harm firsthand. But I have also seen how religion – when people embrace for the right reasons and with the right attitude – can be a tremendous force for good. In any case, you have said nothing to refute my point that religion and dogma need not go hand in hand.

  • Was Jesus actually a God?

    If you say ‘YES’ you must also accept the claim that Yahweh is a real God.
    If you say ‘NO’ then JESUS is nothing more than a legendary character in a story book.
    If you say ‘I don’t know’ then you are an agnostic and cannot claim to believe in this god.

  • Regarding: “If you say “YES” you must also accept the claim that Yahweh is a real God.”

    I’m not sure I understand your point here. Are you saying that if I believe in the divinity of Jesus, then I have to accept that everything the Bible says about God is literally true? I don’t see why it would mean that. It is entirely possible to believe (as I do) that God’s nature is revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus, without believing in those passages of the Bible that promote hatred and violence.

    The way I see things is, all religion comes from an interplay of divine inspiration and human creativity. People experience the presence of God on a mystical level, and they then create symbols, stories, rituals, and concepts to give expression to those experiences. That is why it is possible to believe that, while there are many different religions, they are all inspired by the same God. The fact that human creativity is involved in shaping religion also means that religion will sometimes be corrupted by the bad side of human nature. That is why the Bible and so many other religious texts contain passages that promote violence. But if we stop thinking of the Bible as the literal word of God, and see it instead as the work of inspired but flawed humans, then we can learn to appreciate the abundant wisdom and beauty in the Bible (and other religious texts), while rejecting its hurtful messages.

  • “if I believe in the divinity of Jesus, then I have to accept that everything the Bible says about God is literally true?”

    If the bible isn’t “Literally true” what good is it?

    “divine inspiration”

    Prove it. This is white noise to me.

  • Regarding “If the Bible isn’t ‘Literally true’ what good is it?”

    So if something is not literally true, it is useless? That is a very black and white way of looking at the world. It is sad that you cannot appreciate metaphor, symbolism, and nuance. In any case, the Bible was never meant to be a step by step instruction manual on how to live. It is meant to stimulate, inspire, and challenge. The Bible is a record of the religious thought and experience of Jewish and Christian peoples over the centuries. When I read passages in the Bible that endorse violence, I don’t think “I must go out and kill because God commands me to.” Rather, I am reminded people in Biblical times wrestled with the paradox of worshiping a loving God while living in a violent world, just as believers today do.

    As for “‘divine inspiration’, Prove it”

    Asking for proof totally misses the point. Belief in God comes down to a belief in mystical consciousness – the idea that there is a spiritual dimension to reality that cannot be objectively proven, but which can only be known by direct, personal experience. Of course, if you have never had a religious experience, it is perfectly natural and understandable that you would reject belief in God. That is fine. I don’t mind if other people reject my beliefs. What I am suggesting is that you should try to be humble enough to recognize that other people might have legitimate reasons for believing differently than you do – even if you can’t understand those reasons.

  • Wow. This article was so good, straightforward and encouraging. The goals of the group so logical and humane. Then I glanced at the Comments. Gads. Where do we find again our ability to treat others with the respect we want for ourselves? Seems kinda basic to me. Thank you for the reporting Lauren Markoe. Mary Rakow, novelist.

  • Absolutely. Some hyperbole in my response which I apologize for but I was thinking Bosnia, Rwanda and the Central African Republic using a generational time frame of 25 years. And that the Ottoman Empire varied over time in terms of its treatment of Jews and Christians. And that wars were fought in Europe over the ‘right’ Christian religion. The latter experiences eventually evolved to the idea of religious tolerance between Christians.

  • Josh, I hope this is the discussion you were referring to…
    “we are saved by showing compassion and forgiveness to others.” We are saved because we repented of our sin and asked Jesus to be our Lord and Saviour. (I see you said this afterward) Compassion and forgiveness are bi-products of being saved.

  • “This is obviously not right but you seem to consider these acts to be a representation of an entire religion”

    Remember when it is one’s own faith, they are “not true believers”, when it is another faith, every incident and person is reflective of the entire religion. No matter how many millions of followers it may have.

    Standard religious hypocrisy/bigotry.

  • Excuse me!
    We are not discussing whether the Bible is useful. YES – it is useful as an artifact from antiquity – a book of fictions, legends and poems which reflect the impulses of an ignorant, sadly uninformed culture.

    THE BIBLE is in the same category as all other mythological writings from the era:
    The Dharma, The Book of the Dead, Aesops Fables, Homer’s Illiad, Virgil’s Aeneid, etc…

    But THE BIBLE CLAIMS A SPECIAL STATUS FOR ITSELF! IT CLAIMS TO BE LITERALLY TRUE!

    “He is Risen” is not supposed to be a metaphor!
    “Kill Homosexuals” is NOT supposed to be a metaphor!
    “Kill them in front of me” – JESUS
    (Luke 19:27) has led to the deaths of millions.

    IF THE BIBLE IS NOT literally true it does NOT deserve any more respect than one would bestow on Aesop’s Fables.

    Are you admitting the Bible is not literally true?

  • No….I don’t think you have that one right Spud…..And here I thought you were coming along so well when you upped a few of my comments yesterday…but it looks like she’s a liberal who believes Islam is a religion when it is only a major cult.

  • Christians hate everyone. Its ingrained in the faith. People are deserving of eternal torment just on the basis of not believing as they do.

    There is no instance of Christians cohabitating as equals and peers with those of other faiths without heavy doses of secularism and democracy to keep extremists in check.

  • “who believes Islam is a religion when it is only a major cult.”

    The same thing can be said of your iteration of religious belief. The only difference between a religion and a cult is who is doing the labeling. If its your faith, its a religion. If its another’s its a cult.

  • If you don’t believe in God of any kind, why waste time arguing about it? If you are a true atheist, you don’t believe, and therefor should be content with your disbelief, and perhaps some quiet amusement at those who do. Instead, you seem determined to win converts to atheism, seem to have some sort of atheist theology, and act as if this sis a holy war. You make it look like your atheism is a religion in itself. If you dump more hatred and bitterness directed to both my comment and the faith that you sadly cannot respect, I assure you I will have no cause to respond. May you calm the hate in your heart through any means you can, be it God or the powers of your reason.

  • Hey Spuddie!
    Facts are still interpreted with bias. I asked if she was white because her understanding/interpretation of history reminds me of myself when I suffered from White Guilt. Knowing her race would help me understand her perspective.

  • Bias claims only work if you can show that what is stated is not only untrue but that the speaker has a clear motivation to lie (besides disagreeing with you), and is using less than credible methods.

    Misinformation and fiction spinning is common (and necessary) for certain points of view so bias can be seen pretty plainly. Like anti-abortion, creationist, hate group, ultra-partisan, or psuedoscientific websites.

    Being neither Christian nor Caucasian would not not a sign someone is lying. In fact I have known far too many lying schlubs who call themselves Christian to accept it as a sign that they should be taken at face value.

  • Hate?

    If my car runs out of gas and I say “I see no gas in my tank” this does not mean that I hate gas.
    It means that there is no evidence of gas in my tank.

    You are like a person who is telling me the gas exists in my tank – instead of being honest. Why are you doing that?
    And why do you treat an intellectual challenge as if it means hate?

  • Regarding: “Are you admitting that the Bible is not literally true?”

    There are plenty of progressive Christians – like me – who reject the idea that the Bible is the literal, infallible word of God. As I explained previously I believe that the Bible (and all other religious texts) were written by human beings who were inspired by their experience of God’s presence, but who also left the mark of their own human flaws and prejudices on the text. The verses about killing homosexuals are examples of how human prejudices can corrupt religious texts. Thoughtful, free-thinking Christians can reject those verses and still recognize the great spiritual wisdom and beauty that can be found in the text.

    Regarding: “If the Bible is not literally true then it does not deserve any more respect than Aesop’s Fables.”

    I guess that depends on the individual’s relationship with the Bible, doesn’t it? I have a unique respect for the Bible because it is part of my spiritual tradition and my chosen spiritual path. I have made a commitment to live my life according to the teachings of Jesus, and Jesus’ teachings are rooted in Biblical tradition. Therefore the Bible is especially important to me. However, I respect that other religious texts are especially important to people of other faith traditions.

    In any case, you have stated nothing that disproves my original point – that the real problem is not religion, but dogma. You assume that because Western religion often has been dogmatic that all religion necessarily must be dogmatic, but this is not the case. History’s greatest spiritual leaders rejected dogmatism, as do millions of progressive religious people today.

  • Sandi, I think you are looking at Jesus’ teachings through the lens of later church interpretation. After the Roman Empire took over the Christian church, they wanted to downplay the central message of Jesus’ teaching – that compassion triumphs over brute force – because the Roman Empire was built on brute force. So instead they started promoting the idea of vicarious atonement – that Jesus’ death on the Cross was a blood sacrifice to wipe out people’s sins, and that only people who believe this can be saved. But if you go back and read the words that Jesus speaks in the Gospels with a fresh eye, you will see that there is very little in Jesus’ teaching to support that view of salvation. Rather, most of what Jesus says about salvation and divine forgiveness stress the idea that salvation comes through love. Remember Jesus’ parable about the servant who owed his master a debt? The master freely forgave him when he could not pay, but changed his mind when the servant had another man thrown in prison for not paying a debt. The message is that we are saved through our willingness to forgive others. There is no fine print that says “But only if you are a Christian.” Of course, as a Christian, I learn how to show others love and forgiveness primarily through my relationship with Jesus, so in that sense I am dependent on Him for my salvation. However, I recognize that other faith traditions also teach people how to love and forgive, thus I believe that all of the world’s great faith traditions can be paths to salvation. The Christian path is simply the closest and dearest to my own heart.

  • John 3:3English Standard Version (ESV)
    3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
    John 14:6
    New International Version
    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
    Acts 2:38 – New International Version
    Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Ephesians 2:8-9English Standard Version (ESV)
    8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

    Romans 4:25 – New International Version
    He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

    1 Corinthians 15:3
    for I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

    1 Peter 3:18
    For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;

    John 15:13
    “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

    Romans 5:10
    For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

    We disagree Josh.

  • ” I believe that the Bible (and all other religious texts) were written by human beings who were inspired by their experience of God’s presence,”

    So why did they all get conflicting messages?

    “Bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me for a king and execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)
    “Believe or be condemned to eternal Hell” – JESUS (Mark 16:16)
    “Slay them All” – Allah (Surah 9.2)
    “Kill all non-believers – Yahweh (Deuteronomy)
    “Worship God Ra” – Egyptian Book of the dead
    “All is the bodhisattvas” – Hindu Book of the Bodhisattva
    “Give to God Moshup or there is no life” – Aquinnah Tribe, Native American

    “who also left the mark of their own human flaws and prejudices on the text.”

    really? Then tell me the parts which have been confirmed to be not flawed.

  • Re: “Why did they all get conflicting messages?”

    I have already answered that question, you just don’t want to acknowledge my answer. As I explained, I believe that all religion comes from an interplay of the human and the divine. People experience God’s presence, and they then create symbols, stories, and rituals to give expression to their experience. The fact that different cultures have different names and symbols for the divine is therefore to be expected and does not pose a problem. When one looks broadly at the teachings of the world’s great faith traditions, they all affirm the centrality of love and justice. And the fact that they sometimes endorse violence and hatred is due to the fact that they can be corrupted by human beings.

    Re: “Then tell me the parts which have been confirmed to be not flawed.”

    As I explained previously, asking for objective confirmation misses the point. Religion is based on subjective experience. The test for whether any religious teaching or practice is valid or not is whether it promotes love and respect, not whether it is literally or factually provable.

    It seems to me that you want to pigeon hole all religious people as dogmatists and literalists because that is the only way to keep clinging to your black and white, all or nothing view of the world. But the world is far more complicated than that, my friend. You should learn to recognize the shades of grey.

  • “Religion is based on subjective experience.”

    Nonsense.

    GOD SAYS RESULTS OF FAITH ARE TO BE VISIBLE AND EXPECTED

    “Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord… Wealth and riches shall be in his house.” – Psalms 112:1-3

    “I will make you extremely fruitful.” (Genesis 17:6)

    The blessing from the Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow to it.(proverbs 10:22)

    “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:27)

    The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy.” (Genesis 24:35)

    “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys.” (Job 42:12)

    There is nothing subjective about any of that.

  • Yes, my friend, we do. You are interpreting all of those passages through the lens of church dogma. Let’s take a closer look at some of them:

    John 3:3 – You assume that the phrase “born again” means “become a Christian” because that is what the church taught you. But is that what Jesus really meant by it? I think “born again” means to embrace a new kind of relationship with God, and a new view of the world – one in which the old way of thinking (that might makes right) is replaced by a new way of thinking (that love is the victor over violence).

    John 14:16 – And what does Jesus mean when he says “I am the way, the truth, and the light.”? The whole point of the Gospel of John is that Jesus is the living embodiment of God’s love – that He is “the Word made flesh.” In other words, Jesus is the personification of the saving divine love that is at work in all of creation, and in all religions. So I read that passage to mean “I am the way, the truth, and the light that is found in all faith traditions.”

    As for the passages in the Letters and Epistles that refer to us being saved or justified through the death and resurrection of Christ, let’s consider what they really mean. Is it only individual Christians who are justified by the Cross? Or is the real message that, by His death and resurrection, Jesus established once and for all that God’s love is stronger than hatred and violence – and in doing so, reconciled the whole world to God?

    Food for thought.

  • “you want to pigeon hole all religious people as dogmatists”

    Absolutely not.
    I was a Christian for 49 years – And simply looking at my own life, i would not presume most Christians to think through these matters very much. I certainly did not.

    I have no idea whether you have considered these things or not.
    Have you ever had doubts? I mean…look at the Bible. Look at how transparently ridiculous it is:

    “He called you ‘baldy’? Wow I can’t kill him myself, but I can send some bears to kill them for me!” – GOD (KINGS 2:23-24)

    YES – I know I paraphrased it a little. But come on. This is not reasonable.

  • So, after reading the lengthy posts I have written explaining my thoughts on the subject , you don’t know if I have thought these things through? My friend, you are not being intellectually honest.

  • Those quotes have nothing to do with the reasons that most religious people believe in God. People believe because they feel God’s presence in their hearts. Tell me, during the time that you identified as a Christian, did you feel God’s presence in your heart? If you did not, it makes sense that you are no longer a Christian. If you did, something awful must have happened to make you abandon your faith. May I ask what it was?

  • Reading all of your comments, I get the impression that if you are white, you suffer from White Guilt. I know because I had the same sentiments/understanding for most of my adult life. If you are not white, then I can understand your perspective.

  • You don’t seem to understand.

    THE FEELING OF GOD’S PRESENCE:

    1. Most people arrive at religion because they are indoctrinated (as I was) into believing certain universal feelings are manifestations of “god”. But the study of neurology has now explained these feelings completely – we know why we have them and we know where they come from. If a god exists, these feelings are not coming from the god.

    2. If a real god exists our feelings alone cannot be relied on to determine such a thing.

    3. There is no evidence for a god outside of these feelings.

  • You said, “you want to pigeon hole all religious people as dogmatists”

    No.
    I have said no such thing about religious people. I have made no general assertions about religious people at all – I was religious for 49 years and I was NO DIFFERENT from the people in your church.

  • when one is “born again” they become a new creation in Christ
    I did consider what they really mean, and i believe them. Thanks

  • First, referring to Rwanda as just two tribes is simply over the top. Rwanda is a country that involved a genocide of over 1 million people where people who were Christian were also complicit. And you probably didn’t know about the Central African Republic because you don’t read mainstream news.

    Secondly, my point is that violence and atrocities are committed in the name of religion and when it is, each faith is able to use holy texts/scripture to justify their behaviour in spite of text that says otherwise. Their worldview shapes interpretation.

  • Two tribes Linda.
    Terrible things have been done in the “name” of religion, but that does not make them right, or Christian.

  • First, your claim that most religious people are blindly following what others taught them is demonstrably false. Studies from Pew Research show that slightly more than half of religious people in the US have changed religions at some point in their lives. There are also many people with no religious upbringing who discover religion on their own, and there are people who leave the religion of their childhood but later return after a period of questioning and reflection.

    I am aware of the neuroscientific research around religious experience, but this research only explains how the brain processes religious experience. It tells us nothing about whether the insights gained from the experiences are true or not.

    Finally, belief in God is not something that requires intellectual certainty. I choose to trust my experience of God because thar experience provides me with valuable guidance on how to live. The justification lies in the fruits of the belief, not it’s roots. Even if it turned out that God did not exist, I would have no regrets about living a life of faith, because faith has been a powerful source of inner transformation and growth for me.

  • You have argued that all religion is inherently dogmatic and literalist, which implies that all religious people think about religion the same way. You cannot generalize about religion without generalizing about religious people.

    And may I ask, how do you know that you were “no different” from the people in my church? Have you met the people in my church? From what you have described of your religious background, it sounds like you were raised in a fundamentalist church. Have you ever attended a progressive Christian denomination – Episcopal, Lutheran, or UCC, for instance? You might find significant differences from what you are used to.

  • Fair enough, Sandi. But let me ask you this: Are you willing to accept that there is room within Christianity for different interpretations of Jesus’ teachings, and for different views on salvation? I don’t mind that some other Christians read Jesus’ words differently than I do. But I have been very hurt when very conservative Christian brothers and sisters have accused me of not being a Christian simply because my interpretation is different from theirs. Do you think that a person can hold my views and still be a Christian?

  • Re: “I have made no general assertions about religious people at all” – In a previous post you write: “I would not presume most Christians to think through these matters very much.” Isn’t that a general assertion? You assume that because you never thought about these matters, that other Christians haven’t either.

    And regarding your question about whether I have ever had doubts, it may interest you to know that I was an atheist for a significant portion of my life – from my late teens to my mid-twenties. For some of those years my attitude toward religion was quite similar to yours. But I could not help feeling drawn to the teachings of Jesus, and to the examples of religious people whom I admired, such as Gandhi, MLK, Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day, and many others. It took a long period of thought, reflection, and soul-searching to come to the realization that the real problem is not religion, but dogma. Once I realized that it is possible to embrace religion and also reject dogma, my attitude changed.

  • Josh, I think you are walking a tightrope that you do not need to walk. I think you are trying to turn loving people into a “works” when you don’t need to, and shouldn’t.
    Salvation is free and it is a gift of God and all one needs to do is say yes to Jesus call. You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to do that. All you need to do is say yes to Jesus call, admit you have sinned against Him, ask His forgiveness and ask Him to take control. He does the rest of the work – making you a new creation in Him.
    You are trying to turn “forgiveness” into works.
    Christ forgiveness from your birth to your death is available to you when you are born again. The message is we are saved through Christ’s forgiveness of us – not the forgiveness we extend to others.
    Christ died so we could be forgiven and have fellowship with Him. Sin separates us from God and forgiving our neighbour does not negate that sin. The only thing that negates that sin is Jesus death because He took our sins on Him, on the cross.

    Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV
    For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

    John 3:3 is what you need to research.
    (edit) Josh, we do works because we love Jesus not to get Jesus to love us and take us to Heaven.
    Titus 3:5 ESV
    He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,”
    The “regeneration” being becoming born again.
    blessings Josh.

  • Sandi, I never said that we are saved through works. I believe that it is our relationship with God that is central to salvation. What I reject is the notion that the saving love of God is only available to people who adhere to a specific belief system. As a Christian, I enter into relationship with God through Jesus. But I recognize that there are many other ways to enter into relationship with God. When our Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu sisters and brothers repent their sins and ask God’s forgiveness, I believe that God is just as quick to forgive and be reconciled with them as He is with us. Jesus did not go around telling people “You must believe this to be saved” or “You must be a member of this church to be saved” or “You must recite this dogmatic creed to be saved.” When Jesus was asked “Lord, what must I do to be saved?”, he replied “Love the Lord your God with all your mind, and with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength – and love your neighbor as yourself.” The point is that it is the relationship with God that matter most to salvation, not the creed or beliefs.

  • And may I ask, Sandi, how do you reconcile the argument you are making above with Matthew 6:14-15: “If you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive them their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”?

    But in any event, we are not going to resolve this by quoting the Bible. I’m sure you can find more Bible quotes to support your position, and I can find more quotes to support mine. The Bible itself does not contain one view of salvation, but a spectrum of views. Each Christian needs to work out what he or she believes about salvation according to one’s own conscience and relationship with God.

    What I suggest you think about, Sandi, is that the claim that “Jesus is the only way” has probably repelled far more prospective converts from Christianity than it has drawn in. Gandhi once said “the whole world would have become Christian long ago, if not for the Christians themselves.” More people would be open to exploring Christianity as a spiritual path if Christians did not claim that all non-Christians are condemned to Hell.

    Furthermore, I think it belittles Christ to suggest that his saving power is limited to Christianity. I believe the saving love of Christ and the healing power of the Holy Spirit are at work in all faith traditions. Believing this does not lessen the importance of Christianity. On the contrary, it greatly increases the awe and respect that I have for Christ to think that He brings people of all faiths closer to God.

  • I care about what is true. That’s it.
    A god either exists or it does not. If someone claims a god exists, yet they provide no evidence, it tends to confirm my opinion that gods are delusional and there is probably no god.
    If religion is delusional then it is by definition unhealthy to engage in it.

    If you have no evidence for a god I must reject your claims. Simple as that.
    Tell yourself any fable you want. It is a free country (until Trump destroys the first amendment and forces everyone to be Evangelical Christians).

  • “I am aware of the neuroscientific research around religious experience, but this research only explains how the brain processes religious experience”

    Wrong on both counts.
    You clearly do not know what you are talking about and the studies do not explain “how” the brain processes religious experience. Not at all!

    You are born to find your parents. It is a drive you have no control over. You would die without it and you have no choice about it whatsoever.

  • Evolutionary biology may explain why humans evolved the capacity for religious experience. Neuroscience can identify what areas of the brain are activated during a religious experience, the chemical interactions involved, and how the brain is re-wired as a result. But can any branch of science test whether the philosophical insights we gain from these experiences are valid or not? When a person walks away from a mystical experience with a deeper sense of their life’s purpose, or with a renewed conviction that love conquers hate, can science test these insights?

    Let me be clear, I have never claimed that religious experience proves that God is real. That cannot be proven. My point is that religious experience and faith in God give people valuable guidance about how to live and how to find meaning in existence – so religious people are justified in trusting those things, despite the lack of objective proof.

    But if you think you know more about the brain research than I do, I invite you to post a detailed explanation of what you know.

  • “religious experience and faith in God give people valuable guidance about how to live and how to find meaning in existence…”

    Wrong. Religion gives dumb answers to good questions.

    Why do people feel a strong drive to find a Father figure or mother figure all throughout their lives?
    Why do people often feel so satisfied when they have determined a god is with them?
    Why do people feel incredibly loyal to this father figure even though they cannot see it or hear it?
    Why do people insist on its existence even though they puzzle over where the drive comes from?

  • Religion comes from our infancy. Literally.
    we are born seeking our parents and for centuries we could not explain this drive.
    Religious people tapped into it without knowing what it was:

    “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – JESUS (Matthew 18:2-3)

    God is Mommy!

  • “We seek our mother from birth and we would not survive without her. We need her for food, shelter and support. And she is there from the moment we are born; a presence which validates the truth of the feeling and is returned with the mother’s unconditional love.
    Many humans never outgrow this profound infant drive and they are left yearning for the next mother even when the first one is gone….. Religion fills the gap.”
    – John C. Wathey

    “The Illusion of God’s Presence; the Biological Origins of Spiritual Longing”

    This fully explains why God is so vague and yet so real to so many millions who have no idea their neurology is playing a cruel trick on them.

  • One person’s perspective, and hardly shared by all neuroscientists. Consider this quote from Peter Fenwick:

    “Mystical and religious experiences have occurred in all cultures and in all ages. They clearly use brain-based mechanisms but the fact that the brain is involved does not in any way devalue ‘God consciousness’. Imaging studies only give correlates; these are not causative but simply vary in parallel with the subjective experiences being studied.”

    Or this one from Andrew Newberg:

    “Our research indicates that our only way of comprehending God, asking questions about God, and experiencing God is through the brain. But whether or not God exists “out there” is something that neuroscience cannot answer. For example, if we take a brain image of a person when she is looking at a picture, we will see various parts of the brain being activated, such as the visual cortex. But the brain image cannot tell us whether or not there actually is a picture “out there” or whether the person is creating the picture in her own mind. To a certain degree, we all create our own sense of reality. Getting at what is really real is the tricky part.”

  • Once again, this all comes down to humility. Clearly, religion was never a valuable source of guidance or wisdom for you. It makes sense that you repudiated it. But you should try to be humble enough to accept that other people may find wisdom and guidance in religion even if you don’t. The moment you assume that the path that is right for you is right for everyone, you are giving in to the same kind of arrogant thinking that the worst religious extremists and fundamentalists do.

  • Re: “If religion is delusional then it is by definition unhealthy to engage in it.”:
    There is a large body of research to show that religious people have better psychological and physical health than atheists. So whether God exists or not, faith is clearly not unhealthy.

    But what I find strange is that you seem to think that I care whether you reject my claims. I don’t care if you believe in God or not. All I have tried to do is encourage you to recognize that dogma, and not religion, is the problem.

  • Re: “It is dogmatic to say ‘God exists'”.
    No, it is dogmatic to say “You must believe that God exists.” I am not saying that. I respect your right to believe whatever is consistent with your own experience and convictions. All I am suggesting is that you should be more humble in your attitude towards others. When you assume that religious people are inferior, you are no better than the worst religious extremists.

    But if I am not asking you to justify your atheism to me, what right do you have to demand that I justify my faith to you? I have no obligation to prove my beliefs to you.

  • “I have no obligation to prove…”

    Correct.
    But your decision to dodge your own claims is duly noted. And frankly, considering how much control Religion wants to have in our society it is deeply irresponsible to pass the buck.

    If your God isn’t real then your beliefs are empowering the enemies of democracy for no good reason:


    Religion is at war against women’s rights.
    Evangelism is currently a threat to American democracy.
    Religions are just ideas.
    Religions are manufactured by men; they enforce patriarchy.
    Religion is a dangerous nuisance and it ought to be gently discouraged.
    Religious conflict is a tragic consequence of the embrace of fables
    Atheism is a Civil Rights Issue.

    You have every right to have a religion if you want it. The First Amendment protects you.

    But religion does not have a right to impose itself on my laws. And the First Amendment was designed to PROTECT ME TOO. Yet Religion continues its maddening push without a day off!

  • “should be more humble…”

    In the face of Suicide Bombers? Are you kidding?
    In the face of a patriarchy such as is represented by MIKE PENCE who wants to shut down women’s rights to their own bodies??

    I should be humble while my Constitution is under threat from Right Wing Evangelical Wackos???
    You don’t read enough news.

  • Going to a building on Sunday and meeting up with old friends at your favorite club (church) is NOT unhealthy. That is the part of religion which prolongs life.
    Atheists like myself who have similar clubs; theatre, music, culture, etc are also very happy.

    Just look at Atheist countries like Sweden or Japan to see how long people live!!!

    But the decrees of Jesus are vile and a threat to sanity:

    “Hate them” – JESUS (Luke 14:26)
    “they deserve to die” – (Romans 1:27)
    “Have nothing to do with him!”- (Titus 3:9-11)
    “Avoid them” – (Romans 16:17)
    “… let that person be cursed!” (1 Corinthians 16:22)

    God forces separation and divisions then he scolds people for not being loving enough!
    This is not hypocrisy – it is shameful incoherence.

  • The scripture is about forgiveness, not salvation.
    The Bible contains one view of salvation.
    Jesus is the only way.
    With your last paragraph, you only delude yourself hon. As I have told you, sin separates us from God. People living in sin….God has turned His face from them.
    I saw this and wondered if perhaps it may help you:

    When a person becomes a Christian, God gives him a completely new moral and spiritual capability that a mind apart from Christ could never achieve. The new birth results from God’s sovereignty coming down to a sinner and by His grace cleansing him, and planting His spirit within him, and giving him a completely new spiritual nature. He then has “put on the new man which is created according to God in true righteousness and holiness”. (Ephesians 4:24) John MacArthur

  • You have turned forgiveness into a work – trying to please God with it to assure salvation rather than just doing the simple thing that He asked – become born again.
    If they repent of their sin and ask Jesus into their lives, He will hear and answer them.
    Jesus said ‘You must be born again,” John 3:3
    Acts 2:38 – New International Version
    Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
    No church is going to assure your salvation – your salvation is assured when you become a member of Christ’s church – the body of Christ – on being born again.

  • “this all comes down to humility”

    Oh no you don’t.
    There is nothing humble going on here. Don’t try to kid me – I know my Christian life too well to fall for that again:

    “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents…and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” – Jesus (Luke 10:19-20)

    There is nothing humble about such preening vainglory.

  • Do you understand what “science” means? It is not opinion or ‘perspective’.
    Science is repeatable and the science is conclusive.

    God is Mommy. You were born with an innate drive to find her and, since you DID find her, you have a lifetime of confirmation bias to repeatedly conflate the same drive over and over again – even after your mother is no longer alive.

    It is simple biology.
    You have no choice in SENSING GOD’S EXISTENCE – but it isn’t god. It is your latent drive to find your parent and the religion industry thrives on keeping it fresh.

  • Not white guilt. Just tired of being tolerant of opinion expressed as fact – especially when it is possible to actually know facts. Simply expect people who claim Christianity to be more mature than to engage in non-truths/half-truths to justify dogma and animosity towards others without basis. It is possible to change/amend opinions or recognize the merits in a different position based on knowing the facts. But it is also what I taught my kids – get your facts straight first. And that name-calling is bullying.

  • You are quite right to condemn those horrible acts of violence and discrimination. But what you fail to recognize is the root cause of those things is not religion, it is human arrogance. Whenever human beings are arrogant enough to think that their world view is the only acceptable world view, that is the beginning of violence and repression. Arrogance is just as dangerous in the hands of atheists as it is in the hands of religious people. Don’t forget that millions of religious people were killed in the name of state sanctioned atheism in the Soviet Union and Communist China. You lose credibility when you speak out against religiously motivated intolerance while spouting intolerance of your own.

  • You are absolutely right that religion has no right to impose itself through law – and there are millions of progressive, open-minded religious people who agree with you on that you should attempt to make allies of those people, instead of alienating them by blindly attacking all religion.

    As for your statement that I am dodging my own claims, I have not made any claims to dodge. I have never said “I know that God is real and you should believe that too.” I have said that I make a personal choice to trust that God is real, and I respect your right to follow your own convictions. You need to let go of your black and white world view, my friend.

  • “you should attempt to make allies of those people, instead of alienating them by blindly attacking all religion.”

    I AM HERE TO HELP FREE PRISONERS WHO ARE VICTIMS OF RELIGION. I AM NOT HERE TO MAKE PEACE WITH THE PRISON GUARDS!!!!!

  • “Arrogance”

    Is that what this is called!? Demanding equal rights is ‘Arrogance’ now? Demanding ADHERENCE to our constitution is ARROGANCE??? IS That how far off track we are?

    “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion nor prohibit the free exercise therof” – US Constitution

    This means you have every right to keep your religion.
    It also means I have every right to not live under your religious decrees and influence no matter what they are!

    If that is not good enough for you then you need an education.

  • You are the one who does not understand science, my friend. To call something a scientific fact requires consensus within the scientific community. A hypothesis needs to be examined and tested multiple times by different scientists before it can be called a fact. As the quotes I cited above show, there is no consensus among scientists that neuroscience has or can discredit religious experience.

    But even if it is true that religious experience stems from a drive to seek parental love, that would not discredit religious experience. The same brain mechanisms that allow us to feel parental love could also allow us to feel divine love.

    But even if God does not exist, it does not necessarily follow that faith in God is a bad thing. As I have explained before, faith is justified by its fruits, not it’s roots. There is good evidence that our brains work better when we trust our religious experience. If we are biologically driven to be religious, then perhaps the way to be our best selves is to trust our drives.

  • You know your Christian life. You don’t know all Christian life. To judge all of Christianity based on your own limited experience of it is stereotyping.

  • I am not judging Christians. That is where you are wrong. I am judging Christianity.

    I oppose smoking but I do not hate smokers.
    I hate cancer but I do not hate cancer patients!

    Religions are ideas – that is all they are. Christianity is no different and it has no special claim over any other religious idea. Meanwhile, in the USA Christianity has become so powerful with 560 TV broadcasting stations and hundreds of radio stations that it will be able to force itself onto our laws with breathtaking speed in the years ahead.

    The first amendment is in grave danger because of religion.

  • “even if God does not exist, it does not necessarily follow that faith in God is a bad thing.”

    WRONG. A lie is a bad thing.
    Allah does not exist and belief in Allah has led to this:
    “Only believe” – Osama bin Laden

    The harms of religion are attributed to the wrong-headed ideas connected to religion.

  • Okay, you have acknowledged that dogma is the problem. Now can you open your mind to the possibility that religion can be practiced without dogma? No matter how much you attack religion, you will never succeed in creating a world without religion, because religion is too precious to too many people. But it is possible to create religions that are free of dogma. Many religious people already take this approach. Your energy would be better spent speaking out against dogma than against religion.

  • When did I say that you should not speak out for equal rights? When did I say that society should not respect the separation of religion and state? All of have said is that you should not generalize about religion, and that you should consider that other people may have legitimate reasons for believing differently than you, even if you can’t relate to those reasons. Why does that make you so defensive?

  • Writing the word “wrong” in caps is not making an argument. You seem to have run out of relevant things to say.

  • You didn’t understand.
    Christians (such as I was) are prisoners of a self-made mind trap. It is not their fault. They were raised in religion by caring people who meant well.
    The prison guard is the person who says “don’t challenge THEIR beliefs and don’t question mine”.

  • A moment ago, you accused all religious people of being “prison guards” in the imprisonment of victims of religious persecution. Now you say that you are not judging all Christians? Please explain this apparent contradiction.

  • I’m not defensive. I’m trying to be offensive – as in “let’s discuss these religious claims even though it is uncomfortable”

    Look at what Christianity claims:

    An innocent man suffered was crucified and died for your personal salvation (Completely immoral)
    Jesus is God’s offer of a valid loophole for humans to avoid Hell (yet it only made Hell harder to avoid!)
    The resurrected Jesus proved Yahweh exists, is perfect and unchanging (then why are his worst bible laws obsolete?)
    Resurrected Jesus proved we live eternally (no it didn’t)
    You should feel emotionally beholden to the personal sacrifice Jesus did for you (Immoral: coercive and subversive)
    The Resurrected Jesus is the ONE TRUE EVIDENCE of God’s love for humans (Then how did the Jews manage to believe in god before Jesus was born?)
    All other religions are fundamentally untrue. Only Jesus Christ is true (based on what? faith? miracles? visions? – other religions have those, too)
    You owe it to god for his sacrifice of arranging for the slaughter of his son for you
    You must simultaneously feel love and fear for your God (sadomasochistic nonsense)
    Love others as God loves you even though all of the above contains absolutely no sign of any love whatsoever.

    Now I ask you – how do we explain how this philosophy (that is all it is) has taken over America and funneled billions of dollars to overturn countless civil laws?

  • Re: “If your God isn’t real then you are empowering the enemies of democracy for no good reason.”

    On the contrary, religious extremists are much more threatened by religious progressives like me than they are by atheists. Progressive religion teaches people that they can have the benefits of religion without the baggage that comes with dogmatism and fundamentalism, so it competes with dogmatic religion in a way that atheism can’t. It also motivates religious people to stand up for freedom and human rights.

  • Once again, you are rehashing an argument that I have already refuted. As I stated before, many Christians discover Christianity on their own without being raised as Christians. Others, like me, embrace atheism in young adulthood then return to Christianity after a period of questioning and reflection. The claim that all Christians are blindly following what their parents taught them is demonstrably false.

    But Aragon, has it occurred to you that when you assume that all religious people are brainwashed, and too weak or stupid to recognize it, you are judging and stereotyping religious people – the very thing you keep insisting that you are not doing?

  • How can you have human rights or democracy while you fail to challenge the very philosophy which divides humanity?

    If it is immoral, divisive and dangerous for me to incite murder
    this way: “burn that guy like a log in the fire”
    Why is it okay for Jesus to say it?

    “you shall be thrown away like the sticks…and burned in the fire” – JESUS (John 15:6)

    Religion is not unifying anyone:

    “Slay them All” – Allah (Surah 9.2)
    “Kill all non-believers – Yahweh (Deuteronomy)

    If your position is to accommodate these awful ideas without a debate, why are you also seeking peace?

  • Dogmatic religion has become powerful in America because too many religious people buy into the same false assumption that you buy into – that religion must go hand in hand with dogma. Like you, they fail to recognize that religion is stronger when it is open -minded and inclusive.

  • I don’t accommodate those beliefs. I have told you that I consider them examples of religion being corrupted by the darker side of human nature. And how can you say that I don’t want to have a debate? Have I not been engaging you in a reasonably respectful dialogue and exchange of ideas?

  • I don’t consider your atheism to be a disease that needs curing. I respect that atheism is a valid path for people who feel inclined toward it. It is your refusal to recognize that religion can be practiced without dogma that I object to.

  • This again? I have explained to you multiple times that asking for proof of God completely misses the point. Yet you continue to make me repeat myself.

    We clearly are not going to get anywhere with this discussion, Aragon. But what I am really curious about is, what happened that caused you to re-think your Christian faith after 49 years? Was it a long process or a sudden one? What led up to it? I would find that a much more fruitful topic of conversation than continuing to rehash the same points over and over.

  • I am telling this story only on the condition that you not tell me I was not a “true Christian”.
    I am sick of that claim. If I was not a true Christian nobody is.

    THE BELL I COULD NOT UN-RING. HOW GOD VANISHED AFTER 49 YEARS:

    On Dec. 14, 2012 news emerged about children being massacred in Newtown, Ct. I wept so uncontrollably for them and their parents I could not physically stand. I thought of my own children when they were that age – I knelt in my living room and fell apart as if all these children had been my very own.

    A Catholic of 49 years, I had seen many evil things before but what happened next changed my life. I put my hands together to pray through my distress. I said,

    “Dear God help, please please. Help them all, and help me understand”

    And in that moment I realized that if it were possible for God to intercede and help me right there in my living room it would be an impossible, immoral act on God’s part to respond to me.

    Why?
    Because I was only a person needing comfort – but those children were in urgent need at that exact moment – and God had already not interceded for those children. He had allowed each and every step of the killer, each bullet to fly, each beat of the killer’s heart…right down to the parking space for the killer. In comparison to the needs of those children and their families, my sadness – though horrible – was trivial. I was in no way worthy of any attention compared to those lost in that gunfire.
    God simply had not interceded even a little bit at any step of the way.

    Then came the alarm bell in my head:
    God could not MORALLY intercede to help me. Even if he wanted to! The children had to come first. In fact, GOD MUST NOT – as a moral matter – come to my aid to comfort me at all.

    I could no longer see how a moral God (even one presumably capable of infinite options) could exist under the circumstances. For even my prayer itself had been an unwittingly immoral, un-empathetic act!

    And God vanished.

    A god of some kind may still exist – but the one I had believed in was no longer possible.

  • I had a very loose, open-minded liberal Christianity.
    I do not buy your argument. If God does not exist it is simply immoral to proclaim it to be true. Such claims enable faith-based horrors like witchburnings and suicide bombings.

    I do not claim god does not exist. But until such time as people can either prove god’s intentions or prove its existence, religions should be abandoned voluntarily.

  • Thank you for trusting me enough to share your story with me, Aragon. It certainly is a great challenge to anyone’s faith when a tragedy like Newtown happens. During the time that I was an atheist – though I felt strongly drawn to the teachings of Jesus – the question of why innocent people suffer was always the single biggest barrier to my acceptance of Christianity. In time I found answers that were satisfying to me, but I understand why some people are not satisfied with any answer. I am sorry for your pain.

  • Those children were all alone.
    My mother would pray to Saint Anthony whenever she needed to find a parking spot. She insists it always works because she counts all the hits and none of the misses. If Saint Anthony, Jesus and God himself can help my mother find a parking spot the question should haunt believers;
    Why did god give so many good parking spots to so many killers in history?
    And if God cannot intercede to stop such killers by preventing them from finding a parking spot, what good is it for him to let someone get shot.

    There is a virtue in honesty and in being stoic about what we must face. It simply makes no sense for a god WHO CAN INTERVENE to NOT intervene when it matters most.

  • I admire you for having such strong empathy for those children and their families. I am tempted to tell you my ideas about why God permits evil to happen, but you don’t need to hear that now. You obviously still carry a lot of pain from that experience, and I can only hope that you find healing.

  • “If Saint Anthony, Jesus and God himself can help my mother find a parking spot the question should haunt believers”

    If your mother believes a diety occasionally lends her a helping hand — what’s the harm?

  • And in that moment, Aragon the Atheist concocted a story that they were with the massacre victims as they died.

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