These are some of the people I appreciate most in the jihad to think about Life, the Universe, and Everything. This post will grow… it will take a while to add everyone!!!
Maybe my earliest hero. His Quest of the Historical Jesus concluded that when one looks for the historical Jesus, one tends to find a character that mirrors oneself. Confirmation bias! I’ve always liked his concluding paragraph:
He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” … And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.
His principle of “Reverence for Life” was an early inspiration for me, described here in my “Walk.” This photograph from his life as medical doctor in Africa, having given up careers as organist and European theologian, is eloquent —
“When the Doctor preaches to the natives at the Sunday services, an interpreter on each side, the animals are there also. The weaver birds chatter in the palms overhead, the monkeys scramble noisily on the iron roofs, the domestic animals — hens, geese, dogs, cats, turkeys, goats and sheep — wander in and out among the natives who have gathered to hear the strange gospel. The Doctor has paused for a moment, but the dog begins to speak to the animal world about him.” [don’t remember book title, but found identical picture on the net!]
Gordon D. Kaufman
I am thrilled to discover, through the “formerly-religious” blog I enjoy — Rational Doubt — a constructive theology that thoroughly fills out the sketches that I worked my way through to in seminary and recently. I don’t know how much longer this will be the case, but as of mid-September 2017, wherever I open Kaufman’s In Face of Mystery: A Constructive Theology, it’s like reading a comprehensive version of what I have thought and would like to think is the case! Wow! maybe I don’t need to be concerned any longer about whether I should lay aside my ordination! wow!
Adding in January 2019 — just beginning to read Kaufman’s In the Beginning… Creativity and Jesus and Creativity — and again, they are fantastic! — to me! It’s interesting that he takes a historical Jesus figure as one of his givens, and he goes the “good Jesus” route to describe him. Very interested to see how he proceeds!!!
Two online articles —
My Life and My Theological Reflection: Two Central Themes
Is God Nonviolent?
Thich Nhat Hanh
I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s large-hearted approach to religious and spiritual traditions. I’d say he was a pivotal point in my staying with Christianity — though an open-ended Christianity — especially in Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers. Described here in my “Walk.”
John Dominic Crossan
How do we know what Jesus was like? — Is God violent?
In How to Read the Bible & Still Be a Christian: Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis to Revelation, the answer is what I call “Crossan’s Razor,” with apologies to Occam. The one certain historical fact is that Jesus of Nazareth was executed under Pontius Pilate. From that Crossan argues that Jesus must have been a challenge to the regime, else they wouldn’t have wasted a brigade of soldiers & nails; and must have been nonviolent, else they would have rounded up the whole group. Therefore — Martin Luther King Jr : )
A great book talk here — (& great accent!)
Fascinating talk on the historical Jesus… huge help getting a picture of what Galilee and Rome were like, and how Jesus could have figured in… here
[Biblical Archaeology Society image ]
Audio interview here — includes interesting autobiographical comments….
And two great books with Marcus Borg — the nonviolent revolutionary Jesus!
The First Christmas
The titles of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus were Divine, Son of God, God, God from God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, and Savior of the World. To use any of them of the newborn Jesus would be either low lampoon or high treason. And, since empires always know their opponents, Rome was not laughing. [p.63]
[The imperial kingdom of Rome and the eschatological kingdom of God] are two alternative transcendental visions. Empire promises peace through violent force. Eschaton promises peace through nonviolent justice…. That clash of visionary programs for our earth is the context and matrix for those Christmas stories, and they proclaim God’s peace through justice over against Rome’s peace through victory. [p.75]
The Last Week
[Palm Sunday:] Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30…. One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers… from the peasant class.
….On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of Empire. [p.2]
Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God. This contrast — between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar — is central not only to the gospel of Mark, but to the story of Jesus and early Christianity. [pp.4-5]
[Friday] He spoke to peasants as a voice of peasant religious protest against the central economic and political institutions of his day. He attracted a following and took his movement to Jerusalem at the season of Passover. There he challenged the authorities with public acts and public debates. All of this was his passion, what he was passionate about. God and the kingdom of God, God and God’s passion for justice.
Jesus’s passion got him killed. To put this meaning of passion and a narrower meaning of passion into a single sentence: Jesus’s passion for the kingdom of God led to what is often called his passion, namely his suffering and death. But to restrict Jesus’s passion to his suffering and death is to ignore the passion that brought him to Jerusalem. To think of Jesus’s passion as simply what happened on Good Friday is to separate his death from the passion that animated his life. 
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I admired Dr. King tremendously even before I knew what a deep thinker he was.
From “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” —
My study of Gandhi convinced me that true pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent resistance to evil. Between the two positions, there is a world of difference. Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power, as Niebuhr contends. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.
Many believe the speech “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence” was pivotal in Dr. King’s death — almost exactly one year later:
….What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?
We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing — in the crushing of the nation’s only non-Communist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men….
At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak of the — for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours….
We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says:
Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word (unquote).
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now….
In the remarkable sermon collection Strength to Love, Dr. King expresses his conviction that hate cannot drive out hate — only love can do that. A glimpse of the struggle of soul this requires is quoted here . [pp.113-4]
And! who knew that Dr. King was a champion of my hero Abelard! Abelard, who argued passionately in the 12th Century against the morally horrendous doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement. I just discovered Dr. King’s discussion recently, to my great delight! From a seminary paper:
The cross represents the eternal love of God seeking to attract men into fellowship with the divine. The chief source of the inspiring and redeeming power of the cross is the revelation of the divine love and righteousness. This theory, often spoken of as the modern theory of atonement, is actually as old as Paul. It is at this point that it receives Biblical justification. “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” [Rom.5:8]….
The true meaning of the atonement must be interpreted in the light of the incarnation, whose purpose and cause was, in the words of Abelard, “that he might illuminate the world by his wisdom and excite it to the love of himself. …Our redemption, therefore, is that supreme love of Christ shown to us by his passion, which not only frees us from slavery to sin, but acquires for us true liberty of the sons of God…. so that kindled by so great a benefit of divine grace, charity should not be afraid to endure anything for his sake.
and so much more… I keep discovering new facets of his life and thought.
Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time was a very encouraging book, painting an appealing Jesus:
…[H]e was a spirit person, subversive sage, social prophet, and movement founder who invited his followers and hearers into a transforming relationship with the same Spirit that he himself knew, and into a community whose social vision was shaped by the core value of compassion. [p.119]
Borg was a mystic, and described his experiences in a neat 2013 video, “What Is God?” Part of the Jesus Seminar crew, he wrote for The Fourth R “Me & Jesus — the Journey Home” and his talk “Mysticism, Resistance, and Counter-Advocacy” is an interesting reflection….
Elizabeth A. Johnson
Discovering Elizabeth Johnson during seminary was a joy. Of all the talk about trinity in God, I like her way best so far. I had a little trouble with her book title — not with me, but discovered that at home, I needed to turn the book’s spine to the wall : ) In She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, Johnson wrote
There is a sense in which we have to be touched first by a love that is not hostile (the “third” person), before we are moved to inquire after a definitive historical manifestation of this love (the “second” person), or point from there toward the mystery of the primordial source of all (the “first” person). [pp.122-3]
I loved her quoting Anselm about the three “persons,” as she wrote, “…Anselm of Canterbury will even speak of ‘three something-or-other,’ ‘three I know not what’ (tres nescio quid).”
Her interview on the process theology site Homebrewed Christianity describes a very open idea of God. Start at about minute 9 here
(p.s. just heard Don Cupitt say [around minute 22] that the idea of Jesus as incarnation, second person of trinity, is a beginning of humanism. neat!)
Speaking of Homebrewed Christianity — Keller was quoted in the podcast “Stargazing with Nietzsche and Caputo” as saying “Exactly, Jack! God is the nickname for everything that happens when you have good wine, good food, or make love.” Catherine is not one of my heroines, but is interesting : ) In fact, after listening to her on a variety of Homebrewed podcasts, I sent this question:
Hi Tripp! Thanks for the great work My question is, why do process theologians use the word “god”? Keller talks about our relation to everything — why call that “God”? Is it just to stay in the tradition of people who have used that language in the past? Why not be just a straight-up nontheist or atheist?
So far I haven’t heard them take up my question… but I am really curious — and interested in the relationship between progressive christianity and atheism. There seems to be much intellectual sympathy — even a “Christian atheism.” Maybe there’s a growing coalition, that will include the “none’s,” somewhere along the road as religion develops in the West?
There’s no way to skip the influence the blog “Rational Doubt” has meant for me…. with its gifted moderator, Linda LaScola. It’s wonderful to have a place to air your recent thoughts and get plenty of pushback when you’re full of baloney! It, along with the Process Theology site “Homebrewed Christianity” have given me great leads to theologians and philosophers who are working on the questions that I am! Yay for the “internets”! : )
Just discovered [Spring 2018] Maguire’s theological writings. Have loved his “The Horrors We Bless: Re-Thinking the Just War Theory” for decades (reviewed it on Amazon). Now am loving his “Christianity Without God: Moving Beyond the Dogmas and Retrieving the Epic Moral Narrative.” For one thing, I love how he calls out both theistic and a-theistic bombasticism : ) Discovered the book on Amazon as I searched for Geering’s of the same head title w/ no sub-title. Tkx Amazon!
A fun aside — Maguire notes:
Gerd Theissen… suggests we call off the search for the “missing link” between apes and true humanity. Says Theissen, we are that missing link.33
What a human being! Still sprightly at 100!! Wonderful memoir, “Wrestling with God: The Story of My Life.” Interesting definitions of “god,” “faith,” “eternal life,” etc. I’m now (Spring 2018) in the middle of “Christianity Without God,” and love the notion of a natural progression from Christendom, when everyone assumed Christian theology; through “Christianity,” when people became aware of other ways of perceiving the cosmos as in Buddhism, Islam, etc; to now a world secular society. I like his stance of appreciating the good contributions from Christianity while not mincing words about its failures.
I started listening to Knitter in 2011 when he spoke at Union Presbyterian Seminary about his experience of “double belonging” described in his book Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian. He asked what it means that many today utilize the spiritual practice of more than one religion at the same time. [bracketed italics below are my comments : ) ]
No Other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions
…Jesus is for Jung [another of my heroes!] one of the best symbols of the Christ, but he is not the only one. Jung had a psychological explanation for the traditional Christian claim for the exclusive uniqueness of Jesus: from the early history of the church, Christians have held that Jesus is “one and only” precisely because he is such an effective symbol; having been grasped and transformed by this symbol, they naturally attribute to it “a universally binding truth — not of course by an act of judgment, but by the irrational fact of possession, which is far more effective.” In other words, “one and only” means “the symbol really works, take it seriously.” Yet there are for Jung other symbols that work as effectively for others. “In the West the archetype [of the self] is filled out with the dogmatic figure of Christ; in the East, with Purusha, the Atman, Hiranyagarbha, the Buddha, and so on. “As suggested above, were Jung to rank these figures, he would most likely put both Jesus and Buddha on top. [p.62]
In order to promote the kingdom, Christians must witness to Christ. All peoples, all religions, must know of him in order to grasp the full content of God’s presence in history [as opposed to abstract thought]. This need is part of the purpose and motivation for going forth to the ends of the earth. But in the new ecclesiology and in the new model for truth, one admits also that all peoples should know of Buddha, of Muhammad, of Krishna. This, too, is part of the goal and inspiration for missionary work: to be witnessed to, in order that Christians might deepen and expand their own grasp of God’s presence and purpose in the world. Through this mutual witnessing, this mutual growth, the work of realizing the kingdom moves on. [p. 222]
Jesus and the Other Names: Christian Mission and Global Responsibility
For many in our Christian churches, a Christ who is the way open to other ways is a Christ they can more readily follow. [p.108]
…[T]he purpose of mission is to bring about not only the conversion of the other but also the conversion of the missionary and of the church. Missioners go forth to expand the church not only through the increase of members but also through the increase of new truth, new cultural identity, new challenges within the church…. [W]ithout missionary activity the church would not be able to carry out the vital principle of its well-being: ecclesia semper reformanda — the church must always be reformed. [p.124]
(born on Christmas — climbs a tree every Christmas)
A contemporary guru… Chris is a freethinker naturalist photographer author former street chaplain in California, now living in Asheville NC. I’ve been reading off & on for years his “Life After Faith: Radical Paths to a Reasonable Spirituality,” and enjoy his blogs , meditations series, and comments on the “Rational Doubt” blog. Irenic spirit!
Intriguing talk “Nature Is Enough” — interesting answer to my question there — if not something I can affirm!
Discovered James Cone only last year  in an internet Homebrewed Christianity event. This is a powerful summation of his life’s work —
The Cry of Black Blood: The Rise of Black Liberation Theology
I haven’t read much Dawkins, but I love his essay “Atheists for Jesus.” One reason is — I would love for religious liberals and thoughtful atheists to make common cause for their common values! In online interactions, I would love to help bridge that imagined chasm, and Dawkins helps here to the nth!! Here’s a bit:
Atheists for Jesus
“….Of course Jesus was a theist, but that is the least interesting thing about him. He was a theist because, in his time, everybody was. Atheism was not an option, even for so radical a thinker as Jesus. What was interesting and remarkable about Jesus was not the obvious fact that he believed in the God of his Jewish religion, but that he rebelled against many aspects of Yahweh’s vengeful nastiness. At least in the teachings that are attributed to him, he publicly advocated niceness and was one of the first to do so. To those steeped in the Sharia-like cruelties of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, those brought up to fear the vindictive, Ayatollah-like God of Abraham and Isaac, a charismatic young preacher who advocated generous forgiveness must have seemed radical to the point of subversion. No wonder they nailed him….”
[Dawkins quotes Sermon on the Mount’s loving enemies etc]
“….that super niceness whose singular existence is the central paradox of my thesis. Big brains can take the driving, goal-seeking mechanisms that were originally favoured for selfish gene reasons, and divert (subvert? pervert?) them away from their Darwinian goals and into other paths.
“I am no memetic engineer, and I have very little idea how to increase the numbers of the super nice and spread their memes through the meme pool. The best I can offer is what I hope may be a catchy slogan. ‘Atheists for Jesus’ would grace a T-shirt. There is no strong reason to choose Jesus as icon, rather than some other role model from the ranks of the super nice such as Mahatma Gandhi (not the odiously self-righteous Mother Teresa, heavens no). I think we owe Jesus the honour of separating his genuinely original and radical ethics from the supernatural nonsense which he inevitably espoused as a man of his time. And perhaps the oxymoronic impact of ‘Atheists for Jesus’ might be just what is needed to kick start the meme of super niceness in a post-Christian society.
“If we play our cards right – could we lead society away from the nether regions of its Darwinian origins into kinder and more compassionate uplands of post-singularity enlightenment?
“I think a reborn Jesus would wear the T-shirt. It has become a commonplace belief that, were he to return today, he would be appalled at what is being done in his name, by Christians ranging from the Catholic Church to the fundamentalist Religious Right. Less obviously but still plausibly, in the light of modern scientific knowledge I think he would see through supernaturalist obscurantism. But of course, modesty would compel him to turn his T-shirt around: ‘Jesus for Atheists.’ ”
[Hitchens, “The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings…”]
[added June 2018]
….will be continued… for years, probably!!