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  1. Edwin A. Schwisow
    30 May 2013 @ 6:01 am

    It has become fashionable in some circles to assert that religion has become the habitat of the simple- or close-minded.I say "ashionable" because I do not concur with this conclusion, based in part on my long hours in a writing career that has specialized in creating biographies of some extremely intelligent Christians.

    These people are strongly aware of the shortcomings of the material world we call "reality" and several have told me that were it not for their faith in something better beyond, they would lose the desire to carry on each day. These are not ignorant people, let me re-emphasize; they are without exception broad-minded, curious, gifted in the arts, philosophical, capable of long and revelatory discussions on the intricacies of life, of society, of coexistence, of spirit, of the treatment of man by man. These people in their younger days were at the tops of their professions, and before that at the tops of their high school and college classes. Yet I find that their ability to absorb, assimilate, and analyze great complexity of thought actually drives them ever more strongly to the unassailable conclusion that belief in a spiritual reality above and beyond the temporal is what makes life ultimately worthwhile. Without that hope in something beyond the horrors of this life, they have told me time and again in our interviews and discussions, "I would not find it worthwhile to carry on." Are these people melancholics, depressives, and is faith for them a kind of self-help remedy that keeps them from launching themselves physically off Portland's Burnside Bridge? I don't think so. My conclusion as a writer is that some of the highest and purest moral positions and expansions of social knowledge have come to humanity in the crucible of religious discussion and ideation. The popular notion popularized by the spiritually evolving John Lennon in "Imagine" that religion is a great contributor to misery and war may be superficially true, but on the whole it occurs to me that the great thinkers of the past and a surprising number in the present lean heavily on an internal, spiritual sense that there is a purpose outside of the material or scientifically provable reality, and that without that purpose, the very pursuit of science would be pointlessly idle acquisition of factual information, like the prisoner on death row taking college courses to fill the void until one day he closes his eyes for the last time on a gurney of the warden's choosing.

    I find Dr. Wilbur's overall thesis thus far insufficiently reflective of the tremendous role of spirituality in the personalities of the best and brightest of society—people who set the benchmark for perseverance and hope for society—gentle people (generally) who lived their lives sublimely and sought to follow the gentle high road of a Master Teacher like Jesus or a combination of sages. Transcendence, like intelligence, can be used to create weaponry and strategies to destroy the maximum amount of property and people in the shortest amount of time. But belief in a transcendent reality also seems absolutely essential in a society that saves and preserves its citizens and stimulates them to attempt audacious things in an attempt to grasp (intellectually and ultimately physically) that which constitutes "heaven."

    I might add that the truly intelligent, serious-mindedly "spiritual" people I allude to here are in no sense close-minded or prescriptive of how literal or specific that faith must be, in terms (for example) of how earnestly we must study apocalyptic texts to unlock the key to eternity. Rather, they see in the universal picture the shadings and shadow of Omnipotence which they declare, in echoes of Genesis 1, to be "very good." This they hold to be essential truth and ultimately worthy of the deepest study and most penetrating inquiry, especially as in the twilight of life they reflect on the powerful influences that have contributed to their unwavering dedication to ideals and achievement.

    • Edwin A. Schwisow
      30 May 2013 @ 10:43 am

      Let's try that first paragraph once again, with feeling: "It has become fashionable in some circles to assert that religion has become the habitat of the simple- or close-minded. I say 'fashionable' because I do not concur with this conclusion, based in part on my long hours in a writing career that has specialized in creating biographies of some extremely intelligent Christians."

      • Ella M
        31 May 2013 @ 10:59 pm

      • Ella M
        31 May 2013 @ 10:59 pm

  2. Elaine Nelson
    30 May 2013 @ 2:30 pm

    But according to your first paragraph, Ed, your study was limited to Christians, extremely intelligent Christians.  How can one draw conclusions from such a limited group?

    The summary given by Erv appears to be what history has shown from all groups where religion may not have been the label, but nevertheless, was the guiding authority in their lives.

  3. Edwin A. Schwisow
    30 May 2013 @ 3:35 pm

    To clarify, while it seems fashionable to suggest (along with Karl Marx and other profound critics of pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by religion) that faith is more or less a pacifier for the proletariat, or the masses, I hold that this blog series gives insufficient distinction to the role of spirituality in the motivation of the intelligentsia of the world.

    Yes, there is evidence that as education increases, simple (literal) belief in certain aspects of religion do decline. But the overall belief in a higher power with a higher purpose for humanity than the here-and-now seems undiminished, if even enhanced, among the achieving leadership of this world. It would seem that with higher appreciation for reality (intelligence) comes an even deeper sense of the futility of spirit in an existential universe that simply spins on and on and the impoverishment of expectation that comes with living life for temporal life's sake alone.

    This is not to say that enjoyment of life is impossible in an ambiguous or agnostic spiritual state. We are a wonderful species that finds ways to make do with the portion of faith we are dealt. But even as it has been said (as a generality) that there are no atheists in foxholes, I have also found that there seem to be few truly gifted achievers who completely lack a sense of transcendence, when you get right down to the end-of-life confrontation with mortality. The sense of something beyond this sphere (to brush off a cliché) remains very much a vital, valued, and intelligent element of the overall calculus… Which brings up an important proposition—that human society in the longer haul cannot thrive and progress without possessing a strong belief in Something above and beyond us that motivates us to keep on keeping on, even when all (in a purely empirical sense) seems headed toward a looming sinkhole of absurd purposelessness.

  4. Serge Agafonoff
    30 May 2013 @ 4:09 pm

    Bit quick off hte mark Elaine, methinks.  Edwin did also say of his people: "… gentle people (generally) who lived their lives sublimely and sought to follow the gentle high road of a Master Teacher like Jesus or a combination of sages."
    Ervin lists some of these sages, who have, imho, contributed vastly to the wealth of spiritual understanding that is available to us all, if we but open our eyes.

    But I do tend to agree with Edwin also in this: "I find Dr. Wilbur's overall thesis thus far insufficiently reflective of the tremendous role of spirituality in the personalities of the best and brightest of society."

    I too have not found, despite Ervin's best efforts, that Taylor's thesis is all that penetrating or enlightening.  I suspect this is because he is himself operating at a non-spiritual level.  If Paul's distinctions that he portrays in 1Cor 2 are to be of any value to us, then we may/ought to be aware of the author's 'spiritual stature,' as Paul might describe it.

    He distinguishes at least two types of CHristians, at least in Corinth.  he refers to the 'psychikoi,' mind-level believers, and he refers to a smaller, more desirable group as the 'pneumatikoi,' spirit-level folk.  He says he 'would that all were pneumatikoi,' but alas, it is a lack.  He also says that whilst he writes and preaches to all, he also has a special message, 'wisdom of God in a mystery,'  that he reserves for the 'perfect,' teleioi, the ones who have come to 'maturity,' in Christ.  'The measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' he refers to elsewhere.
    Paul is one who Wilbur would refer to as a mystic who had deep, inner experiences which did indeed bring him messages which disrupted the religious thinking, not only of his own culture, Judaism, but of the Greek and Latin-speaking worlds.  He attained these insights into the mystery of CHrist (Eph 3.4) through his mystical 'ascents' into the 'third heaven.' Alan Segal's 'Paul the Convert' says Paul is the first of the Jewish mystics who has left us with a, albeit brief, description of these mystical 'ascents.' 

    So, why all this talk about mystics?  This chapter of Wilbur's book was introduced as having some way of explaining religious diversity.  Rather, it seems to attempt a kind of psychoanalysis of how religion meets various  presumed human needs.  The mystical element is given short shrift.  In fact, is described as ephemeral.  This belies a poor understanding of this most profound of human experiences.

    However, my main point is one borrowed from Richard Smoley, but I do not recall teh name of his book.  In it he basically says that the religions of hte world can be represented as a spoked wheel.  On the outer rim, they appear to be different and separated one from teh other.  However, as one goes deeper into each religion, they appear to have a lot more in common and even to merge one with the other.  He finds that this deeper, mergent element can be equated with the more esoteric an mystical elements of all religion.  Christian mysticism, Jewish Qabala, and Islamic Sufism are but three examples.  Ervin mentions also Lao Tse "the Tao that can be seen? is not the true Tao," Plato, Buddha et al.  

    Buddhism is a good example also.  By the third century BC, Buddhist .missionaries, known as Theraputae, or 'healers,' had travelled to the four winds.  (There are studies now which claim to show that large sections of the Gospel of John is based on Buddhist writings). They were known to be present in Alexandria, where, eg, Philo Judaeus was attemtpting to draw together Platonic wisdom and Judaism.  And lets nto forget Manetho's statement that teh Greek philosophers got all they knew from Moses!  Nor Stephen's amazing claim in his last, dying speech, that Moses was 'learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.'  And last, but not least, of Jesus it is said, 'out of Egypt have I called my Son.'  I suspect that Joseph and Mary stayed in Egypt, around Alexandria where there was a huge diaspora of Jews, for a lot longer than standard chronology teaches.  There was even a Zadokite (the temple in Jerusalem was run by 'the sons of darkness' of Essene teaching) Temple south of Alexandria at Heliopolis where he could have performed all teh temple rites described in the NT.

    But that is digression.  The 'inner' teachings, the 'wisdom of God in a mystery (the word actually means 'secret,' not something unknowable)' was taught amongst those whose spiritual enlightenment enabled them to preceive its verity.  

    It seems to me that these are the ones to whom Jesis referred when he said:
    Lu 11:52  Woe unto you lawyers! for ye took away the key of knowledge (gnosis): ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.
    Matt 23.13 describes a similar sentiment.  
    'The kingdom of heaven is within you' is the language Jesus used to describe them.  These are the ones of whom He said, many are called, few are chosen.  My sheep hear My voice.  Seek, and ye shall find. etc.

    Along with Edwin, I don't think Wilbur has sufficient appreciation of the fact that these people cannot be analysed holus bolus along with every other religious group which is only aware of teh outward forms of their religion.

    As a PS…. John Lennon is not properly appreciated for his own spiritual insights.  His song, 'Love is all there is' can be best understood in teh light of John's clear statement, God is Love.  And in the interests of sharing an insight into how another 'mystical view' might present this, please go to this link.
    It is a study of the text, I am God and there is none else.  Love IS all there is!

  5. Elaine Nelson
    30 May 2013 @ 5:36 pm

    There are several things necessary for any idea to become a movement and advance into religion:

    A strong, persuasive charismatic leader; without that there will be no followers.

    Examples are:  Moses, Paul, Emperor Constantine, the various Popes, Martin Luther, John Wesley,
    Joseph Smih, Ellen White, Jim Jones, David Koresh, to name a few.  All these enabled religious groups of various sizes to receive recognition. 

    This says nothing about the preference of any of them as that is only judged by the followers.  Most have created illusions of benefits to following their leadership, but who is to say that humans do not choose what best fits their personality and needs?

    • Serge Agafonoff
      30 May 2013 @ 11:13 pm

      Which probably explains why one never hears of an organised religion of mystics!

  6. Ella M
    31 May 2013 @ 11:18 pm

    Edwin, I find your sensitive response to be more accurate than that of Wilbur's in describing religions–Christianity in particular. Most of the goodness in the world such as helping the poor and sick have come through religions. In the western world nuns and priests started hospitals in the midst of the darkness of papal Rome. Religion has two faces–the good and the evil and they can exist side by side.. Some influential contemporay scholars have chosen to target the evil and throw out the good.
      I agree that Dave's book is superficial in its avoidance of the spiritual aspects and transcendance of faith.   Some would say his is a materialistic study, like studying a corpse to find what gave it life.

  7. Trevor Hammond [22oct1844]
    03 June 2013 @ 10:33 pm

    RE: "All religions seek to satisfy a similar set of human needs and thus they share many features."
    Christianity differs from most religions as it sets out solely to remedy the problem of sin.  All other aspects of human life fall into place when sin is shown the door.  This Christ accomplished by dying on the cross.  No other religion 'satisfies' this human need for a Saviour like Christ.  There is none that come close.

  8. Anonymous
    04 June 2013 @ 2:32 pm

    I'm sure that all those of good will are happy for those individuals like "22Oct" who have found a relgion that 'satisfies' their need.  The problem comes when some (not all) of these individuals insist that this religion 'satisfies" the needs of everyone.  There is another problem in that there is a whole range of variations of the one religion that individuals like "22Oct" state "satisfies" their need.  We can ask which version of that one relgion do individuals like "22Oct" find the most helpful?.

    • Stephen Ferguson
      05 June 2013 @ 8:40 am

      The Bible is full of different perspectives about the same event.  For example, you have 4 Gospels with quite different views of Jesus.  You have Paul, James, John and Peter, all who have slightly different views of the 'same religion.'  You have the writers of Exodus and Dueteronomy, who both uphold the Sabbath in the Decalogue, but use different reasons.  Why did God use humans in the first place?  I believe it was to make that point – that there are a range of variations, even of the 'same' religious belief or event. 

  9. Trevor Hammond [22oct1844]
    04 June 2013 @ 11:47 pm

    RE:"Along with this opportunity for some form of continued existence comes the claim that eternal happiness is possible in some future existence."
    This claim of 'eternal happiness' or eternal life, which is the qualifier for this happiness, is taught in the Bible which emphatically makes the claim that the God who created heaven and earth by the word of his mouth has given us this promise.  It is the gift of eternal life.

    [Matt 25:46; Mark 10:30; John 3:15,16, 36; John 5:39; John 10:28; John 17:3; Rom 2:7; Rom 6:23; Titus 3:7; 1John 2:25; 1John 5:11, 13, 20; Jude 1:21]

    [Titus 1:2] "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;"


  10. Stephen Ferguson
    05 June 2013 @ 8:48 am

    Mr22:  'Christianity differs from most religions as it sets out solely to remedy the problem of sin.'

    I would kind of agree with Mr 22 but go further.  

    Sin isn't unique to Christianity.  It is true many religions don't have a concept of sin, although even in Christianity, or Adventism, can't agree on what sin is exactly?  Is it a state of inherited guilt (per original sin of RC) or a tendency to committ wrongful action (per Judaism and E Orthodox)?  

    Moreover, trying to deal with sin isn't unique to Christianity.  Islam has a simple solution – follow the 5 pillars. So does Buddhism, to follow the Noble 8 Path, and finally reach a point of total surrender of ego (i.e. apathy), where one can kill the Buddha if they see him (as the saying goes).

    What is unique to Christianity is the effect of sin and the way to address it.  This uniqueness is seen by the thief of the Cross.  Most religious people of other faiths are perplexed, if not outright hostile, to the idea that the thief could live a life of evil, and yet at the last minute turn to God and be saved.  But that is the essence of Christianity – none of us can save ourselves, and we are all wounded beings who can only ever be saved by the works of Jesus and not our own good works.  A mere 50% pass mark is not enough, because it is a 100% test!

    I would be interested to know if anyone else knows of a religion with that same view of the effect and remedy of sin as Christianity with its thief on the Cross?

  11. Elaine Nelson
    05 June 2013 @ 5:21 pm

    Judeo-Christianity created the idea of sin, and they invented the cure.  If you can be convinced you are a sinner, it becomes imperative that you find the cure, and Christianity offfers the cure for the affliction that they created!

    • Stephen Ferguson
      06 June 2013 @ 1:29 pm

      Buddhism?  Most 'tribal' religions, which see any crises, such as the death of a young person, as 'unnatural wrongness' that must be attributed to magic? Gnostic-spiritualist religions (think the movie The Matrix) who see the how world as an illusionary con and matter evil?  Pretty much every major religious leader in the last ten thousand years, who seem to notice the 'wrongness' of the world.

      The notion of some prior idealist paradise beginning (which may or may not have ever existed) and an expulsion or fall from that place, is not unique to Judeo-Christianity.  One could consider Australian Aboriginal Dream Time legends as a pretty far-off example, one of many.  Even humanistic and atheistic attempts at utopianism, such as communism, are arguably reflections of that same 'Eden-shaped hole' in the human collective consciousness.

      It really depends on what you mean by 'sin'.  Even within Judeo-Christianity, there is a major divide between RC Augustine original sin and Judaism and Eastern Orthodox views (with Adventism being undecided).  

      I would say the 'problem' of the 'wrongness' of the world, which one might consider to be sin (unless you limit yourself to the strict and narrow Augustine original sin), is not unique to Christianity. What seems unique to Christianity is the solution to that problem.

  12. Darrel Lindensmith
    05 June 2013 @ 10:51 pm

    So you would be saying Elaine that outside the Jewish and christian religions, the idea of 'guilt' does not exist.

  13. Elaine Nelson
    05 June 2013 @ 11:08 pm

    Is there another belief where sin is the dominating theme?

  14. Elaine Nelson
    06 June 2013 @ 3:16 pm

    Shame is much older than guilt.  Primitive peoples use shame as a controlling method for behavior.

    I am not aware of guilt in non-monotheistic cultures.

  15. earl calahan
    06 June 2013 @ 5:56 pm

    What a shame. In many cultures, shame, family shame, ethnic shame, community shame, cultural shame
    is nothing other than mass egotism. Yet it is deadly, murderous, resulting in the  killing of the wife, the daughter, or female relative, or village female, who oversteps the line of shameful practice. Isn't it notable that it almost always is the female that is the guilty. And this murderous practice is usually condoned by even the mothers. TERRIBLE, SHOCKING, SENSELESS MURDER. So much for human
    rights in much of the world. 

  16. JaNe
    26 July 2013 @ 8:52 am

    Does Mr. taylor ever read the Bible?