Bart Ehrman

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As I listened to Terry Gross's interview with Bart Ehrman today, I was struck with how disappointing, yet not unexpected, his outlook on Christianity was. Ehrman is an ex-evangelical Christian, and yet again, like so many others who left conservative Christianity, he shows himself to have changed teams without having essentially altered his earlier, narrower understanding of what Christianity is or what God is or can be. Ehrman states that his reason for becoming an agnostic was the problem of theodicy--which is understandable, since the question of suffering is indeed a serious problem with the supernaturally theistic God of conservative Christian theology. Yet it was clear throughout the interview that Ehrman could not wrap his mind around any way of approaching the issue from a faithful perspective other than via the evangelical mindset he came from. Since he rejected the evangelical mindset he came from, he thus rejected religious faith altogether.

At some point late in the interview, Terry Gross finally asked the question that I was waiting for--namely, had he considered either another religion, or, more to the point as far as I was concerned, another concept of God who was not theistically interventionist. He rather casually dismissed the idea of any concept of God other than the omnipotent one that he more or less took for granted, suggesting that anything other than that sort of God would be so incomprehensible as to be meaningless--something that I for one, not to mention many panentheists, process theologians, and others, would seriously dispute. For all practical purposes, throughout the interview, he assumed a certain definition of God; while grudgingly acknowledging that God might not conform to that definition, he apparently had not bothered to explore any such theology. Yet, one solution to the conundrum of suffering that he had agonized over would certainly have been solved simply by altering his conception of Divinity--I would suggest, in particular, by rejecting Divine omnipotence.

I found this same sort of mindset in play as he discussed the Bible's various takes on the problem of theodicy during the history of its composition. He correctly notes that the Bible approached the problem from several angles, and yet he never really seemed to appreciate this historical evolution of ideas as an insightful process--of people trying to make sense of the world and of God; instead, he simply dismissed all of it as simple proof that the Bible is "wrong" and not to be trusted as an infallible guide--thus belying the evangelical background that he came from. Like many people from that background, he still seems to take an either-or approach towards the Bible--either it is an infallible guide, or it is useless (except for Ecclesiastes, which he does like). I could not help but contrast Ehrman's attitude towards the varying ways that the Bible addresses these questions of theodicy to the approach that Marcus Borg uses. Both scholars would agree that the Bible took varying and often contradictory approaches to the problem of theodicy; but whereas Ehrman saw it all as a failed effort, Borg found insight in the struggle and the process that was illuminated by the evolving ideas found in the Bible.

According to the book excerpt from Ehrman's latest book that is printed on the NPR web site, he writes that

about nine or ten years ago I finally admitted defeat, came to realize that I could no longer believe in the God of my tradition, and acknowledged that I was an agnostic: I don't "know" if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he certainly isn't the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world. And so I stopped going to church.
Here he commits the evangelical fallacy of assuming that Judeo-Christian tradition has ever just proclaimed a single theology about God's nature. In fact, the concept of God in the Bible was a work in progress, and remains so. The Bible showed an evolution from that of Yahweh as a tribal deity to God as a universal Deity of all humankind. There is no reason why we cannot continue that process today, standing on the shoulders of those who preceded us. That is how we can have feminist theology, liberation theology, process theology, and creation spirituality, to name just a few components of the broader stream of Christian faith.

A living faith tradition is not a single, dogmatic party line; it is instead a constellation of intertwined and evolving beliefs. This is not something that conservative Christians really understand, and, unfortunately, neither do many former conservative Christians.

32 comments:

Gary said...

Given Ehrman's familiarity with the gnostic texts, I am surprised in his narrowness. Thank you for the commentary, I'm finding your views on the evolution of God to be refreshing and helpful.

Andrew said...

I don't have anything to add, I just wanted to say, "Well said!"

ms. kitty said...

I think there may be some psychological natures that have to reject completely an old way, spend some time marinating in that rejection, and gradually, if they are open to it, be softened by time and experience.

I like Bart Ehrman, though I haven't read a lot of his stuff, and notice that he is like some of my UU congregants who felt betrayed by their early religious upbringing (usually conservative Christian), rejected it angrily, and now are very slowly coming to find meaning in liberal Christianity.

I grew up in a conservative Christian home but never felt the need to reject that upbringing in anger. It was more important to me to maintain my family ties, so I have done all I could to work through my discomfort with their theology and find ways of staying connected.

But some personality types have a hard time with that, in my experience.

Mystical Seeker said...

Thanks, Andrew!

Gary, you raise a good point about the gnostic texts. Ehrman has written elsewhere about the diversity of thinking in early Christianity, so he should be aware that that the Christian tradition has encompassed (or been the source of) a variety of theologies. Yet when he discusses theodicy, he suggests that there is only one "Judeo-Christian" tradition about God's nature.

Ms. Kitty, it is true that I myself am one of those who felt betrayed by my conservative Christian upbringing, and I took it hard when I left that upbringing behind; so I know what you are saying. At one time in my life, I was more bitter than Ehrman appears to be (I was an atheist, and Ehrman himself describes himself as an agnostic). He seems more open minded than the hard core atheists like Hitchens or Dawkins, for example. Yet he is an academic who presents himself as an expert of Christianity, which is one reason why I feel that what he says deserves a response.

Jaume said...

This is actually a problem for religious liberals, and not so much for Ehrman. He is saying that he has not found another religion that is convincing enough after he left Evangelical Christianity. Therefore he remains as an agnostic, which I find a very honest position. It is not that he is unaware of other theologies: the point is that those theologies are not inspiring for him, and he can only approach them as subjects for study, not as valid responses to ultimate questions of existence. Liberalism will only thrive when it can command as much loyalty and faithfulness as the conservatives can.

Mystical Seeker said...

Jaume, I am not questioning Ehrman's honesty; I am questioning his line of reasoning. It is far from clear that he is is seriously aware of other theologies, since he doesn't seems to address them with any seriousness. This seems like a glaring omission, since process theology, for example, would have solved in one fell swoop the problem that he addresses an entire book to.

It would be one thing to say that he is aware of other theologies but is not inspired by them; it is another thing altogether to make sweeping arguments about the nature of God as if these other theologies didn't even exist, and to never seriously address them and to instead continually work from the assumption that his prior evangelical theology was the only legitimate heir of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition--an assumption that he clearly never shed even as he left the faith.

Frank said...

Juame,

I think you hit an important point, and this is why the religious climate is what it is these days. Evangelicals capture the hearts and the attention of people (not necessarily in that order). Its faulty, but when you talk to an evangelical, their churches are vibrant, Bible studies everywhere, missions trips, touchy feely prayer groups, there is a LOT going on.

To tell someone they should give that up because the theology is wrong is one thing, but then the big question is where do you tell them go afterwards??

The liberal churches leave MUCH to be desired. Brilliant theologies that barely trickle down to the pews in an obvious way. Great Bible studies, but they are more rare. The wisdom is there, but people can benefit from a guide and a better support structure to impart (and participate in) that wisdom. Its a much lonlier road. A more honest road, perhaps, but a tough one for the average bear.

I think there are many rewards in liberal (or mainline) Christianity, but they are harder for people to tune into, and that is why I think people choose the otherwise senseless Evangelical route Its a real split peronality culture we live in--you either use your brains but not your heart, or you use your heart and not your brains. The pathways for integrating both are not widespread in our culture.

Mystical Seeker said...

The liberal churches leave MUCH to be desired. Brilliant theologies that barely trickle down to the pews in an obvious way

Frank, unfortunately, this has also been my experience. I have found that very little progressive theology makes its way into the worship services of many ostensibly progressive churches.

On the other hand, it is worth considering that progressive religion isn't for everyone. Some people do seem to need easy, neatly packaged answers. The question is whether this is something that everyone has the potential to outgrow, or if some people simply have an innate psychological aversion to progressive faith, no matter what.

The "Living the Questions" DVD makes the point that church membership is not a contest. It isn't about winning or losing, and having the largest congregation on your block isn't necessarily the goal. On the other hand, there are social consequences of how this all shakes out, because some/many conservative theologies tend to want to impose their world view on the world as as whole (consider the case of evolution in our schools, for example.)

Matthew said...

>>Its a real split per[s]onality culture we live in--you either use your brains but not your heart, or you use your heart and not your brains. The pathways for integrating both are not widespread in our culture.<<

People are lazy. They'd rather latch onto views that make them feel they are 'on the side or right', instead of treading 'the narrow path', which requires attention to God's lead in the moment. The 'narrow path' is hard work!

Jesus taught, "The truth will set you free", which doesn't deny mind for heart. Why would a person deny head for heart, or heart for head...that sounds like mutilation, not healing! Find how both are acceptable and you'll be lead to discover 'truth'.

Strange how Jesus' 'life in abundance' got dogmatized into formulations of belief and theological statements. People are amazing...they created a yoke of legalism around a message of freedom and love!

It's when a person gets 'stuck' in THEIR interpretation of one tradition (not recognizing other ways to see the same thing from a different perspective), that the problem you mentioned arises.

I recommend people learn and live a second tradition. It's amazing how a fresh perspective can help one see something that's been missed!

Peace,
Matthew

Rowan The Dog said...

I heard that interview and had almost exactly the same thoughts as you. He still has the same mind-set about God, he's just changed teams.

Jaume said...

MS, I agree that process theology is a very intelligent philosophy to solve some problems about the relationship between God, history, and creation. However it is not (IMO) spiritually compelling enough to take it as something else than an intellectual exercise.

In secularized Europe, it is common that people leave their religion behind but then they are reluctant to even consider the possibility of joining another religion that might suit them better. For a reason, a link is created that is nearly impossible to be broken. There is a Spanish joke that describes it well:

Two Evangelical missionaries were looking for new converts in the Spanish rural countryside. They met a farmer and started talking about the Bible, salvation, and personal commitment to Christ. But then the farmer interrupted them and said: "All you say is nice and good, but I do not believe in the Catholic church, *that is the true church*. Then how come you want me to believe in yours?"

Mystical Seeker said...

Jaume, that joke is a pretty good one. I think it sums up what often happens when people leave behind the religion that they were taught was the one true faith.

However it is not (IMO) spiritually compelling enough to take it as something else than an intellectual exercise.

That may be the case for you, and that is certainly your right; but I for one find it very spiritually compelling. It is process theology that allowed me to believe in God. The pastor of a church that I sporadically attend has similar feelings about it.

Rob said...

For all practical purposes, throughout the interview, he assumed a certain definition of God; while grudgingly acknowledging that God might not conform to that definition, he apparently had not bothered to explore any such theology.

Of course, we all do this, don’t we Mystical ;-) Consider how you solve his theodicy dilemma:

Yet, one solution to the conundrum of suffering that he had agonized over would certainly have been solved simply by altering his conception of Divinity--I would suggest, in particular, by rejecting Divine omnipotence.

Is it really any different to assume that the solution to the theodicy question is “rejecting of Divine omnipotence” when there are other frameworks in which to conceptualize the problem that allow for Divine omnipotence to exist along side an evolving universe in a co-creative partnership of creature and Creator?

Traditional theistic conceptions of God had him/her acting on the universe omnipotently from the outside. Process theology, and other theologies like it, consider God from a panentheistic perspective--which is to say that God acts _through_ the universe, which is in turn contained within God.

Were there not a variety of “theisitic conceptions” (i.e., for one example Irenaeus vs. Augustinian worldviews) that reveal the historical evolution of ideas as an insightful _process_--of people trying to make sense of the world and of God. To re-impose an either-or approach based upon the limitations of Process Theology is once again to commit the fallacy of assuming that Judeo-Christian tradition has ever just proclaimed a single theology about God's nature. In fact, the concept of God in the Bible was a work in progress, and remains so. The Bible showed an evolution from that of Yahweh as a tribal deity to God as a universal Deity of all humankind.

Is not that evolution continuing as we speak? Perhaps there are other conceptual frameworks that allow for a Divine omnipotent Creator acting within a panentheistic co-creative process? I have been learning of one such framework and familiar with concepts such as finite deity, evolutionary deity, etc. since I was sixteen years old ;-)

Process Theology is an very powerful and important insight I think; but it is not then end or end-all of conceptual frameworks in which Deity relations can be conceptualized, it seems. For after all, there are different ways of conceptualizing Divine omnipotence.

Creative Amida

Mystical Seeker said...

Rob,

Is it really any different to assume that the solution to the theodicy question is “rejecting of Divine omnipotence” when there are other frameworks in which to conceptualize the problem that allow for Divine omnipotence to exist along side an evolving universe in a co-creative partnership of creature and Creator?


I don't see how we can re-introduce Divine omnipotence into the equation without re-introducing the problem of suffering. If God is truly omnipotent, then God has all power, which includes the power to stop suffering; and if God has all power and chooses to voluntarily withhold the full exercise of that power via some kind of restraing on his/her part via a partnership, then God is still abdicating the responsibility for stopping suffering. In this sense, I agree with Ehrman--I don't see how you get around the conundrum of God's ability to intervene but choosing not to, once you accept God's omnipotence.

However, I certainly agree with you that process theology is not the be-all and end-all of this problem, and I am certainly open to other theological perspectives. From that point of view, I think that Ehrman sold himself short. I am not suggesting that Ehrman should have become a process theologian; what I am saying is that I offer process theology as an example of a way out of the conunudrum that Ehrman identified. But Ehrman apparently chose not to pursue this course, because he seemed to only accept his own evangelical paradigm as the only possible way of conceiving of God. Process theology is not the only alternative to his evangelical paradigm--I fully admit that.

Mystical Seeker said...

By the way, Rob, thanks for the link to the "Creative Amida" page. When I have time to digest it I will take a look at it more thoroughly. I have some interest in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, and I am interested in the ways that process thought might engage in a dialogue with it.

SocietyVs said...

"In fact, the concept of God in the Bible was a work in progress, and remains so. The Bible showed an evolution from that of Yahweh as a tribal deity to God as a universal Deity of all humankind. There is no reason why we cannot continue that process today" (MS)

Great point Mystical Seeker - I like this approach also...it shows a growth in thr human mindset from age to age - which includes our present age also (we are part of this whole thing)...I like that!

Mystical Seeker said...

Societyvs,

Thanks! I think that if we look at theology as an ongoing process of dialogue between humans and God, instead of as a dogma handed down to us from above, we will go a lot further in our spiritual development.

Matthew said...

>>I don't see how we can re-introduce Divine omnipotence into the equation without re-introducing the problem of suffering.<<

Seeker, how does 'free will' fit into your 'theology'?

Peace,
Matthew

Mystical Seeker said...

Matthew, I guess I'm not sure I understand what you are getting at with your question. I do believe that free will is a fundamental given of the universe.

I don't believe, however, that free will explains why people die in tsunamis, and I don't think that an omnipotent God would be denying anyone's free will by preventing natural disasters. I also think that the victims of evil are not exercising their own free will when they are victimized. If I see a crime about to be committed, and if I have the power to stop it, I believe it would be wrong of me to sit back and do nothing out of respect for the free will of the perpetrator. This is one of the reasons why I think that divine omnipotence can't be reconciled with the existence of human suffering.

Jaume said...

I'm glad that you liked the joke! As for Process Theology, I have no doubt that it is interesting (I was a member of the PT UU Network for several years), and I agree that for you, your friend and others, it may be inspiring. However I will change my mind about the impact of PT when I see hundreds of thousands or millions following the teachings of PT. But I hardly believe that it will ever happen, because it is appealing only to a small number of thoughtful educated Westerners.

Matthew said...

>>I do believe that free will is a fundamental given of the universe. <<

If humans have free will, they can choose that which leads to human suffering. An omnipotent God has the power to allow human suffering.

Matthew

Mystical Seeker said...

Sure, an omnipotent God can allow human suffering. An omnipotent God can do anything he/she wants. The whole point of Ehrman's objection--and I agree with him completely--is that this is not consistent with the notion of God's benevolence. It is not benevolent to stand back and do nothing in the face of evil. If I stand back and refuse to stop a crime because I want to respect the "free will" of the perpetrator, no one would take such an argument seriously. And yet this argument gets made a lot to justify the idea that an omnipotent God does nothing in the face of evil. Furthermore, orthodox Christianity doesn't claim that God never intervenes in human affairs. On the contrary, God is said to have intervened many times, God is said to answer prayer, and so forth; so as a result, one can have it both ways. When God is said to intervene, the free will argument is dropped like a hot potato.

And, as I mentioned before, the problem of suffering extends beyond merely human-evil. It also pertains to suffering that comes from nature--things like disease, tornadoes, and so forth.

Matthew said...

>>Sure, an omnipotent God can allow human suffering.... The whole point of Ehrman's objection--and I agree with him completely--is that this is not consistent with the notion of God's benevolence. It is not benevolent to stand back and do nothing in the face of evil.<<

Seeker, you haven't understood my point.

Should God to be judged by human standards?

Do you disagree with the main conclusion of the book of Job?

Wouldn't Christian Atheism be a more direct and honest stance to the problem of theodicy, than Process Theology?

Peace,
Matthew

Mystical Seeker said...

Well, Matthew, to be honest, I think the main conclusion of the book of Job is a crock. In essentially telling people that they should just shut up and accept the whims of a capricious God, as far as I'm concerned it offers no resolution whatsoever to the problem of theodicy. I find the book of Job to offer no answer whatsoever to this question.

No, I don't consider atheism a "more direct and honest" stance in response to the problem of theodicy than process theology. If I thought so, I'd be an atheist. I do think that atheism is one possible response to the problem--as is process theology. Both are ways of trying to resolve the problem of suffering in the face of both a supposedly omnipotent and benevolent God. But my complaint with Ehrman is not necessarily that he is an agnostic, but his reasoning--that he draws a conclusion based on limited premises about what God's nature must necessarily be.

Frank said...

Matthew,

I like and agree with what you're saying in an earlier comment, especially concerning your words about the narrow path.

Along with the narrow path, I also think there's a fine line to be walked--perhaps they are the same thing, but let me explain what I mean: While I abhor putting Jesus/God/Sprit in a "golden box" and restraining the "life in abundance" with a yoke of legalism, I also believe there is something to be said about a faith tradition. When people interpret "life in abundance" as being complete detachment from a method or tradition or a cultivated discipline, then I believe that person has erred on the other side. Instead of a yoke of legalism, there is a yoke of non-legalism--perhaps? This is consistent with discussions here about how fundamentalists-turned-atheists are often operating with the same mindset. If we believe that we can better understand God/Spirit/Whatever through a faith tradition, then we have to be open to accepting at least some of what we inherit--with and within reason, and with and within the response of faith.

Maybe it would be better received if the legalisms of many faith traditions were passed down to us as suggestions rather than absolutes. But I believe that the practice of a faith tradition is a good thing. It might not matter as much which tradition you pick, but just pick one and take it to the max.

I liken it to education: I can get a degree in English, you can get a degree in Chemistry. We both end up in the same place with a BA, and let's say we continue on to the masters and PhD levels. Had we spent our early time as generalists, we'd be taking many courses at the BA level, but not taking enough of them in the right proportion to earn the depth and breadth needed for a B.A.

If a faith tradition doesn't make sense, there may not be anything missing from the tradition, it could just be a function of where you are at with the tradition. You can't be expected to know calculus until you know algebra, and you can't be expected to know algebra if you are studying arithmetic. Until then, you just "wax on, wax off" and you haven't seen yet how those motions (i.e. rituals, traditions, etc.) are part of an enlightened whole. Yet, many of us “church shoppers” go and witness a single worship service and write off the entire faith tradition in light of it.

And here we head into one of the greatest points of tension in our modern day, which is relativism vs. absolutism, which the Catholic hierarchy is wise to point out as being one of the biggest challenges of our day. Many of us are well aware of the dangers of absolutism. But as a culture we are barely at the early stages of realizing the poverty of relativism. How to balance between them is anybody’s guess.

Rob said...

By the way, Rob, thanks for the link to the "Creative Amida" page. When I have time to digest it I will take a look at it more thoroughly. I have some interest in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, and I am interested in the ways that process thought might engage in a dialogue with it.

Your welcome. John S. Yokota is one of the few (if not the only) Shin Buddhist scholar who has found Process Thought stimulating for Shin Buddhist philosophy.

Rob said...

I do believe that free will is a fundamental given of the universe.

What does this statement mean Mystical? How does the "universe" fundamentally give finite evolutionary creatures free will?

Mystical Seeker said...

Rob, I am basically expressing a process theology perspective when I say that free will is a given of the universe. Process theology, or at least the process philosophy of Whitehead from which it is derived, starts from the perspective that the universe is a series of ongoing processes in which "decisions" are essentially made to complete each event. God's role then is to act as a lure upon the universe and he/she acts by persuasion rather than force to guide the universe along its evolutionary path. So from this perspective, free will is integrated into the very way that the universe operates.

Frank said...

I think people struggle with the idea of an omniptent God and suffering because of our narrow appreciate for suffering. For all we know, suffering is just another experience that is really neutral in the grand scheme of things. We think suffering is bad, but that's coming from a human perspective.

The real contradiction is to reconcile that with a theology that holds that life is valuable. How can life be precious to us here on earth but suffering and death neutral phenomenon in the divine "realm"?

Mystical Seeker said...

For all we know, suffering is just another experience that is really neutral in the grand scheme of things.

To me, any grand scheme of things that did not incorporate the very real subjective experience of all of creation would be a cold, indifferent, and not very benevolent scheme. I don't see how one could treat everyone's subjective experience as neutral unless you took empathy and compassion out of the equation.

Not to harp on process theology or anything :), but one of the things that drew me to it was its conception of God as sharing deeply in all the subjective experiences of all of creation. That means that all of our sufferings really do matter to God. A God for whom the suffering of even the smallest creation was relegated to "unimportant" in some sort of grand scheme of things does not conform to my conception of benevolence. Thus we are back, once again, to the conundrum of a God who is both benevolent and omnipotent in the face of suffering.

Matthew said...

Frank,

>>...I also believe there is something to be said about a faith tradition. When people interpret "life in abundance" as being complete detachment from a method or tradition or a cultivated discipline, then I believe that person has erred on the other side. Instead of a yoke of legalism, there is a yoke of non-legalism--perhaps?...If we believe that we can better understand God/Spirit/Whatever through a faith tradition, then we have to be open to accepting at least some of what we inherit--with and within reason, and with and within the response of faith.<<

>> Maybe it would be better received if the legalisms of many faith traditions were passed down to us as suggestions rather than absolutes. But I believe that the practice of a faith tradition is a good thing. It might not matter as much which tradition you pick, but just pick one and take it to the max.<<

I view faith traditions as collections, first orally, then in written form, of examples and guides to God's (in the case of theists) participation with people. A documentation of how people have found, and can find participation with God (in his kingdom.) I like the JS translation of 'kingdom of God' to 'God's Imperial Rule', in the NT.

Jesus responded to Pharisees about their faith tradition- the 'tradition of Abraham', and contrasted it with a 'deeper' one ('but I say to you'), which he seemed to discover from being available to God's leadership

"Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'" Lk. 3.8

Jesus' path was one of daily participation with God. It had very little to do with setting up absolutes. He generally brought tradition to task. Participation, with God EACH DAY seemed to be his path...why else would he continually seek solitude to 'commune' with God, or suggest to people to go to 'their secret place'? In Jesus we see God as living and breathing. He was interested in every moment; interested in the littlest things, things of unappreciated value. God, as wholly compassionate, cared about EVERYTHING (even the viruses, which cause disease?!)

This picture of God is hardly detached from the world (this is very different from it's Buddhist use, in which 'detachment' is about detachment HUMAN desire), but actively participating with(in) it. Does this imply that God also 'suffers'? There are comments about this in the NT, but I think they're less about what God experiences, and more about what God 'wants' - how he rules in his kingdom; which this 'generation' doesn't understand. God is just, so he 'hates', or 'cries out' against injustice. Jesus claims we are all children of God and should follow his leadership. I think he hoped people would find their connection to God and follow his will.

How can you put 'love' into legal terms?


>>If a faith tradition doesn't make sense, there may not be anything missing from the tradition, it could just be a function of where you are at with the tradition....Until then, you just "wax on, wax off" and you haven't seen yet how those motions (i.e. rituals, traditions, etc.) are part of an enlightened whole.<<

Well stated, Frank. The reason 'faith' is often required is that it gives one the courage and motivation to continue walking a path, which is too often unclear. It's problematic, because often people trust (and fight for) that which isn't trustworthy!

I appreciate the Buddhist way of practicality in all practice. If the practice works, use it; if it doesn't drop it. I wonder how many Christians can claim their faith is actually a lived reality, and has transformed them; instead of being something they've collected (like an investment) which they hope will 'mature' when they die!

Peace,
Matthew

Frank said...

I think people in our culture get too paranoid about legalisms. They're not the end of the world. In many cases, they are part of the discipline, the spiritual practice. You gotta wax on, wax off Danielson. When you participate in any insitution (school, work, whatever) there is a sequence to follow... courses you gotta take, tests you gotta pass. They aren't always perfect, but overall, in general, they are designed to serve a purpose... the breadcrumbs left by people who came before... its still your own journey, but its not just that... you're also part of a collective journey, a faith tradition.

People in general grumble about but ultimately accept the humanity of social institutions like government but have zero patience for any error or "rules" in religious institutions. I share that frustration, but I think its misguided. You could risk standing on the shore and only watching the faith tradition from a distance. We know its an evolving tradition, so its not gonna be perfect.