Pan-compassionist Freethinker

So what is a pan-compassionist freethinker?!!

It’s what I seem to be at the moment, and it’s been holding for a few months….   It’s a miracle!  No telling where I’ll end up, but it’s a good feeling to be able to maybe put a foot down somewhere —  for the time being!

Pan-compassionist:  means I would like to be compassionate toward everything.   Tall order, guaranteeing falling short, but good to have an aim!!!

Freethinker:  means I stay open to revising my views.   My allegiances are to compassion and to fact, insofar as we can know them.   I respect the traditions I come out of —  Christianity, social democracy, etc —  and I evaluate them by compassion and fact, to the best of my understanding.

In September 2021 I’m adding “engaged” —  “engaged pan-compassionist freethinker” —  because I’m realizing that I don’t mean it’s good to just passively observe and sympathize — I aspire to actively do something to make things better.   Wondering how to convey that, I thought of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “engaged Buddhism” and think “engaged” will work fine for now…. maybe eventually my own individual word will pop up  :  )

This blog is for thinking about what this means in my life & thinking (besides making me — and probably everybody! — a category of one!), and for collecting and celebrating my heroes and heroines (continually added to here),  It’s for conversation, if anyone wants to converse  :  )  !!!   Enjoy!!

~~ other web links here ~~



blown away  1/13/22

another step  1/11/22

dream  1/8/22

Christmas  12/24/21

encouraging  12/18/21

a political execution  11/7/21

a ha!  10/19/21

what if  10/17/21

the Bhagavad Gita  10/3/21

expanding 9/26/21

missing  9/23/21

Intro’s  9/22/21

nights   9/18/21

New project  9/9/21

Freethinker  9/4/21  

The Pieta of Kabul  8/31/21

Being Peace  8/28/21

liminal  8/19/21

Open & Relational 8/15/21

Surprise! 6/19/21 

Update. 6/14/21

concept  10/30/19

Fresh Round  7/11/19

Agnostic  7/1/19

Thinking  6/29/19

speedbump  2/24/19

clarifying  2/21/19

restless  2/4/19

new group  2/1/19

becoming daisies  1/7/19

Construction 1/4/19

Grayling’s 10 Commandments 10/10/18 

Wisdom for the Journey 7/11/18 

“Atheists for Jesus” 6/15/18 

Jesus  — March 2013     talk at Lenten Luncheon

a step 6/10/18 

Social Righteousness 3/24/18      sermon

Heroes and Heroines 7/17/17

blown away

I was blown away yesterday… by James Lawson, herald of Gandhian and Jesus’ nonviolence, soul-force, love. Speaking to a small zoom group, he was a mesmerizing presence… there was certainly no ambivalence for him who Jesus was and is — it was soul-healing to hear him. Jesus the prophet of love; Jesus the liberator. I’m hoping there’ll be a link for here!

Now in his 90’s, he talked about his youth; how he came to nonviolence at age 8; and it was so moving to see him and John Cobb, the host — also in his 90’s — talking together. All that wisdom!

I plan to read & listen more to him…. That wonderfully good point of view, coupled with such certitude about Jesus, makes me think there may be a reality there which my cerebral wheel-spinning totally misses.

A truly moving experience. Grateful for it


[This still is from his John Lewis eulogy 7/30/20 ]

another step

About demitting —

The past few days/weeks I’ve been more and more despairing of ever resolving what any relationships may be between who the figure behind the Jesus stories is and what relationship the stories and takes we hear today have to what actually was said and done.

I’ve been thinking that since I no longer think as I did during the ordination process that I should set it aside.

But I’m thinking more & more often — that I have this great gift of having been able to study and think, and I now have a responsibility to what is true — to try to help get as close as we can now to what is true. That would mean I don’t need to demit, but to work as hard as I can to help us all develop toward what’s true — always aware that I could be wrong!

I’m remembering the saying that “The only way out of the Presbyterian Church is to be kicked out.” : ) So maybe my part is to say what things look like to me at this point (a lot of which is “I don’t know”), and stay in the mix until I get kicked out : )

That would relieve the pressure of needing to find a theologically compatible group to be part of — any present group would be fine so long as it’s not working against goodness, truth, and beauty; and if it emphasizes compassion — which RPC does — so much the better.

Intriguingly, a sem prof has recommended the PCUSA no longer use membership questions! Here’s how I was musing about it the other day:

What I would like to do is acknowledge that I am in a different place now from 1991 and following years; I am not feeling that attraction to nursing home chaplaincy. At this point, I could not join the Presbyterian Church, which involves affirming that Jesus Christ is my lord and saviour — tho googling just now, I see a new proposal:

Pittsburg Sem prof John Burgess ‘suggested elimination of “public profession of faith” from Presbyterian practice. “Those who were baptized as infants but have not yet made the kind of ‘public profession of faith’ for which the Book of Order calls nevertheless have been making public profession of faith every time they receive the Lord’s Supper and whenever they have joined the congregation in reaffirming the baptismal covenant.

‘Because baptism “identifies one as belonging to Jesus Christ and to the community that he has called to give witness to him by word and deed,” Burgess said, this shift in the church’s thinking and practice must “interpret baptism as entry into a community of mutual encouragement and accountability.” Those who will be baptized, he added, “must know that after their baptism they will not be left alone.” [PCUSA News]

That would give me a little legitimacy for not immediately demitting…. would be sort of like a cultural Jew — but what I feel like I would like to do is to say that I’ve moved along from where I was, and would like to be just a friend of everyone who espouses compassion — [pan-compassionist freethinker : ) ] — not belong to any organized religion or philosophy.”

Today I am thinking I would stay where I am — and from here, work toward what’s true and good.

Will be working out what this means — if it sticks : )


….pulls me once again to confront what my relationship with Christianity is…. I dislike hearing the stories told as if they were fact — that makes me miss what the meanings could be, just reacting against the literalism.

I don’t want to be disagreeable, so I don’t say anything unless something is really egregious… but that makes me feel so false. And so I go into a fresh round of thinking I should demit.

On the one hand, I know many think I should not be clergy, given my current points of view. On the other, I suspect I’m not that far different from many clergy. So that brings me to, just what do I think today anyway?!

God: assuming that humans are the highest form of life in terms of consciousness seems quite hubristic…. there may well be greater beings somewhere…. and there could also be a kind of overarching “energy” invisible to us. But there is just too much suffering of humans and other animals to think it’s a grand design by an entity we can rely on for help. Maybe we can rely on such an entity for feelings of comfort, etc — as we turn our thoughts that way, we connect some way. As we behold truth, goodness, beauty, we respond, and that’s somehow responding to that energy. That’s as far as I can go with the idea of “theo”…..

Jesus: I have too many questions about the historical Jesus to offer many opinions. Relying on Bart Ehrman’s scholarship, I think a Jesus of Nazareth did exist. And it sounds like he was executed by the state, the Roman state. It may be true that he had enemies among the current Jewish officials — for example, Paul of Tarsus wrote that he persecuted followers of Jesus.

Why was he executed? That’s unclear to me — I don’t know enough about the power relations between Rome & Jerusalem. I like the take of Dominic Crossan — that Jesus was a nonviolent revolutionary who challenged the idea that everything belongs to Caesar — but it’s also possible that Rome was just helping the Jerusalem hierarchy with its irritants.

What did he teach? I don’t know what the historical Jesus taught. There is much in the bible and non-canonical texts that I think is great — love your enemies, welcome the stranger, etc — and these days if I need to say anything, that’s what I quote.

Bible: book of wisdom, tradition, insights…. much good, some not. I enjoy also Buddhist outlooks, Taoist, Hindu, Sufi…. Muslim haven’t appealed to me very much, for some reason, though I respect Muslim scholars and admire Muslims of good will, like the Minnesota Attorney General and especially correspondent Amna Narwaz and the awesome Malala.

I’ve been exasperated with myself for having puzzled so long without having come to any conclusions — tho then I think that a thousand or so years from now, it’s likely all our current conclusions will be quaint — so then I think, So don’t be so hard on yourself — and then I think, So what’s the use? even if I came to some conclusions, they’re likely to be incorrect : )

I am thinking, tho, that it’s probably time for me to sit down and hammer out what I think about “God” …. this human being after eighty-four years, in the year 2021 …. so may start working on that.

I wish any readers of this — in 2021 or descendants in 4021 —

a season of comfort, love, joy, and peace


“One can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of a pure regard for truth,” wrote French philosopher, activist, and mystic Simone Weil. “Christ likes for us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.”
― James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

This is so encouraging, during a fresh bout of wondering if I should demit

a political execution

I don’t know why this hasn’t struck me before — but listening to Paul Capetz (one of my sem teachers) last night on the podcast “Atonement: Anselm and Abelard,” it came home to me that Jesus’ death, in real time, was not a “sacrifice” — it wasn’t conceived of as such, it wasn’t performed on an altar — instead, as I’ve understood before, it was experienced as a total horrific calamity. The idea of a sacrifice came later (& Capetz says, was picked up by Paul). Jesus was executed by Roman soldiers — “a political execution.” His death as sacrifice is “an interpretation of a historical event that was originally not a sacrifice at all.”

Isn’t it amazing how total that idea has become in Western Christianity!!

I was intrigued to see a discussion of Abelard! In sem I only heard one mention of the view of his view that I like — Jesus’ death as revelation of the depth of God’s love for us. (In chaplaincy I’ve described it as Jesus’ refusal to take back his insistence on God’s mercy & forgiveness to all, even at pain of death.) Usually I heard Abelard’s view characterized as Jesus providing an example for us to follow — so years ago I went back in my class notes to find the “revelation” mention… searched for more info about that for years, and in 2011 was delighted to see that his commentary on Romans was at last translated into English!

A quarrel I have with the podcast tho is the idea that if Jesus’ death had not been considered a sacrifice, we would never have heard about it: “If it had just stopped as, it was an execution, there would have been no Christianity” — “He would have been a forgotten martyr, like so many other forgotten martyrs.” [minute 32]

I wonder what they think of Jesus’ teachings — would “love your enemies” etc not have survived? like the teachings of the Buddah? I don’t see a way to dialog with the podcast… I’d love to know what they think about that!

I don’t know why this “historically not a sacrifice” struck me so strongly this time — I’ve always known that — but the stark idea that the theological construct of “sacrifice” was applied to a political execution does bolster my rejection of what I regard as a morally horrific doctrine: substitutionary atonement — “killing an innocent person adds to the good in the universe, makes things better.”

….Part of my take is at “Psychoanalyzing God,” which Rational Doubt invited me to write [2015], and renamed from my unimaginative “Why Did Jesus Die?” Mercifully, Linda LaScola, the awesome editor, condensed the ending, adding “This is complicated, I know. Psychoanalysis is like that.”

Isn’t it funny how a kaleidoscope mind works!!

a ha!

Just for fun…. just posted this in the process thought class that ended a couple of weeks ago. I’d asked the question:

“The question that led me to enroll is Why do we use the term ‘god’? I love the idea of Whitehead’s ‘great companion — the fellow-sufferer who understands,’ and I know that he moved from atheism to using the term ‘God’ in order for his metaphysics to work, but I haven’t understood him well enough to answer my question.”

And what do you know?


“Thank you again, Pastor Al!

“In case anyone reads after the course — I just happened on an online talk that is very helpful for my question — I’m just finishing Thich Nhat Hahn’s life of the Buddha and am struck by the co-dependent arising in Buddhism that sounds so much like process thought — Googling ‘Did Whitehead study Buddhism?’ surfaced the text of a wonderful talk by John Cobb that explains about Whitehead: ‘There must be an actual entity that mediates between pure possibility, which is fully abstract, and the occasions that are coming into being in the world. He called that entity God.’

“That’s the link I’ve been looking for, which makes sense in the context of the whole talk. Of course, internalizing it is a whole different project! but I feel like now I have a good clue.

Whitehead and Buddhism

“Next question will need to be — does that ‘actual entity’ ‘lure’ toward things that we think of as evil? I doubt there is thought of two such entities, one urging compassion & the other enmity!

“Thank you, Pastor Al — I remain on the lookout for the Matt Segall talk, which no doubt will help too! And deep thanks to John Cobb, who writes, thinks, and speaks so clearly and patiently — and to all here ‘rebirthing God.’
: )


what if

Just finishing Old Path, White Clouds, with its descriptions of the careful collection of the Buddha’s teachings during his life and after his death. It makes me wonder what Jesus’ teaching would look like if he himself had continued and shaped it — no doubt hugely different from today’s new testament — some thoughts, authentically his, he might have developed differently over his own lifetime if he’d had time…. His death an atrocity in so many ways.

Looking forward to After Jesus, Before Christianity, debuting next month from the Jesus Seminar. Some small hints there, I’m guessing : ) The contrast between these two origins is striking… and has to be so significant….

the Bhagavad Gita

A wonderful talk I heard this afternoon — about the Great Revelation, and this moment, today….

Dr Mesle is a process philosopher — with a huge heart.
He often quotes a key passage that holds him:

Those who burn with the bliss
and suffer the sorrow
of every creature,
within their own heart,
making their own
each joy and each sorrow,
them I hold the highest.

Their every action
is wed to the welfare
of other creatures.

Link is here:
Talk starts at minute 30 & ends around 48.

Personal, deeply moving. If you watch, I hope you enjoy!

[Specs from Cobb Institute email: “noted process philosopher Robert Mesle, speaking to First Unitarian Universalist congregation in Los Angeles, for their hybrid service Sunday, October 3, at 11 a.m. (Pacific Time). ‘Elliot is Brahman: UU Principles and the Bhagavad Gita.’

“Robert Mesle is author of these widely used introductory texts: Process Theology: A Basic Introduction (Chalice Press, 1993) and Process-Relational Philosophy: An Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead, (Templeton Press 2008). Jay McDaniel interviews Bob Mesle in a Cobb Institute Conversation in Process. ]


Before I rose this morning, I had a happy thought!

I was worrying (as often) about whether I should demit, and if I did, what I can say to spouse, conservative family members, congregation I’ve been attending.

It’s so complicated…. it’s not everything that I want to distance from — but there’s so much that I reject as unreal, unethical, etc.

Suddenly out of nowhere (it seems) I realized — I don’t have to reject — I just want to expand — I am growing out from where I started my intellectual life, a very large part having been Presbyterian theology…. as I’ve developed, I’ve expanded more and more, and dropped some attitudes & ideas — and now, to the ideas I began with, I add ideas from other traditions, the sciences, humanities, just plain life lessons. (Right now I’m reading Thich Nhat Hahn’s life of the Buddha — Old Path, White Clouds — and there’s so much there that I appreciate — without wanting to follow everything!)

If this holds water, I wouldn’t have to worry about whether or how to demit — just work through how the expansions & deletions affect my official status vis a vis the denomination. If it means a change, fine — but I would not be implying a letting-go of the parts of the teachings of Jesus that I find awesome, nor shutting the door against future revelations or re-visitings.

First reaction is — I think I like it : )