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Thought-provoking incoming Emails, with our responses


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Interesting Emails discussed in this essay:

Posting a church notice in a public school classroom:

Incoming Email: "I need some help on the Equal Access law. I have mounted a poster about my church's Easter drama on my public school classroom wall. Another teacher told me this is illegal."
Our response: Interesting question. But what you have done is unrelated to the Equal Access law.

A main reason why the U.S. has enjoyed an absence of religious wars, mass murders and genocides, even though it has been described as the most religiously diverse country in the world, is that it enforces a separation of church and state. The Supreme Court derived the principle from the First Amendment of the Constitution. It requires governments (and public schools) to avoid three things:

  1. Promoting one religion over another.
  2. Promoting a religious lifestyle as superior to a secular lifestyle.
  3. Promoting a secular lifestyle over a religious lifestyle.

Your poster about your church's Easter drama is quite legal in a shopping center, church, poll hall, etc. However, in a public school, it violates:

  • Item 1 because you are promoting Christianity over other religions like Judaism, Islam, Wicca, etc.
  • Item 2 because you would be promoting religion over a secular lifestyle.

However, according to a number of court cases regarding the Ten Commandments, one way in which you could display your poster might be to post it as one item in a collection of items regarding special days of significance during springtime. For example, you could place a poster describing the Wiccan celebration of one of their eight Sabbats, the Vernal Equinox on (typically) March 21. This is sometimes called Alban Eilir, Eostar, Eostre, Lady Day, Ostara. That would probably overcome Item 1. But then you would have to add a corresponding number of secular posters to the collection to overcome Item 2: One might be the celebration of the Equinox by the American Atheists. Another might be a poster recommending that people change the batteries in their fire alarms on the Equinox. Such a display of two religious and two secular posters would probably be considered constitutional by most courts.

There might be a second alternative for the Christian poster. The Equal Access law requires that any public school that receives federal funding and which has as few as one extra-curricular student-organized and student-run club, must allow a Bible study club (or for that matter, a Buddhist Club or Wiccan Study Group) to organize. Such a club must be given equal opportunity to publicize their activities. So, if the astronomy club is allowed to put a poster on a central bulletin board advertising their club meeting, then the Bible club must be permitted to post a notice about their meetings as well. Now, it might be a bit of a stretch for a Bible club to post a church's poster, unless it had a very strong connection to the club itself -- perhaps wording saying that the Bible club would be observing their Easter week meeting by attending this church's drama. I have never seen reference to a court challenge of the right of a Bible Club to post a community church's poster. It would be an interesting case.

Of course, you could continue to post the church ad. Since you live in an area of the U.S. which has a strong Christian culture, few if any students or adults will complain. But the poster would be unconstitutional. It would send the message that Christianity is superior to all other religions, and to secularism. It would probably make some of your non-Christian students feel distressed. This option does not seem like a positive one.

Should we tolerate falsehoods?

Incoming Email: "Your metaphysical errors are of graver a deficiency than any electronic errors. Religious tolerance? Should one tolerate falsehood? You'd probably say yes."

Our response: Yes. We should tolerate falsehood.

According to the Times News Service, the recent Encyclical by the Pope, Dominus Iesus implies that "Churches such as the Church of England, where the apostolic succession of bishops from the time of St. Peter is disputed by Rome, and churches without bishops, are not considered 'proper' churches." That is, the Catholic Church considers non-Catholic religious groups to be false.

Many conservative Protestant denominations believe that Roman Catholics, liberal Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc are false religions. Some fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians even consider some of these religious to be forms of Satanism.

According to many Muslims and Jews, Christianity is a false polytheistic religion that is does not recognize the single, indivisible nature of Allah or Yahweh.

It seems that most people consider their own denomination or tradition within their own wing of their own religion to be true, and all the other denominations, traditions, wings and religions to be false.

Not tolerating other religions leads directly towards the recent situations in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Cyprus, Nigeria, Sudan, Middle East, Iraq/Iran, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia, etc. It ends up with the gas ovens of Nazi Germany and the 911 terrorists.

So, we recommend religious tolerance. We should allow persons of other religions to coexist in freedom without oppression or discrimination, even if their beliefs seem quite strange to us. In that way, we can expect them to allow us to coexist, even if our beliefs are quite strange to them. Again, the alternative leads to the gas ovens or other form of genocide.

Why doesn't this website take a stand on abortion?

Incoming Email: "I was doing research on abortion and stumbled on your website. Why don't you decide whether you're for or against it and go with it."

Our response: I think that you misunderstand the nature of our web site.

Unlike about 99% of the religious websites on the Internet, we do not promote one point of view. We are a multi-faith group with diverse beliefs concerning deity, humanity and the rest of the universe. Our group have diverse personal beliefs about women's abortion access. We try to explain all points of view accurately, clearly, and concisely.

On topics related to Bible passages, we explain at least the conservative and liberal Christian position. Sometimes, we toss in the beliefs of the early Christian church from the 1st and 2nd century CE. Often the three belief systems are quite different. Where groups like the Southern Baptists, Catholic Church, Episcopalians, etc. have different beliefs, we often explain these as well.

On topics related to homosexuality, we explain the beliefs of religious conservatives; we also explain the beliefs of human sexuality researchers, therapists, gay, lesbians and religious liberals.

We are not promoting our own beliefs here. We are acting as reporters, explaining the beliefs of others.

There are literally tens of thousands of pro-life sites out there which promote restriction or elimination of access to abortion services. Many are not particularly accurate. There are many hundreds of pro-choice websites who are keen to preserve access to abortion. Many of them are not particularly accurate either. We feel that there is a need for a website to present all sides to each topic. We hope that people will find the information on this website helpful while making their own decisions.

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How can a Christian disbelieve any major part of the Bible?

Incoming Email: "...explain to me how a  Christian would discount anything in the Bible. I don't mean picking and choosing parables as literals but not believing something to be the foundation of humanity."

Our response: We get a lot of questions of this type. Most are related to the visitor's definition of the word "Christian."

Suppose we temporarily assign a new meaning to the term "Christian" than the one you may be used to -- just for the purposes of this dialog. Suppose we define "Christian" as anyone who sincerely, devoutly, prayerfully, seriously, and thoughtfully believes themselves to be a follower of Christ and his teachings. This term "Christian" would then include Fundamentalist Protestants, other Evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, liberal Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox followers, Mormons, Unificationists, Christian Scientists, a small percentage of Unitarian Universalists, etc.

A major difference among these various groups is their concept of what the Bible represents. The following is a gross over-simplification, but may give you some idea of the dynamics involved.

  • Those in the most conservative wing of Christianity tend to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that it was written by authors who were inspired by God, and that the original, autograph copies, as written by the authors, are inerrant.

  • Those in the liberal wing of Christianity tend to believe that the Bible was written by a variety of authors each of whom promoted their own belief systems. Since it was written over an approximately 1,000 year interval, it shows a gradual transformation in the beliefs that the authors teach.

    The writers lived in a pre-scientific age. Thus their knowledge of cosmology, human sexuality, how languages developed, what causes rainbows, how species developed, etc. were quite primitive. So their writings on these topics are typically wrong. Their writings also reflected the customs of the time, which accepted human slavery; genocide; the execution of witches, gays, people who picked up sticks on Saturday, and non-virgin brides; torture and raping of prisoners; polygyny -- a variety of polygamy with one husband and more than one wife; the oppression of women; xenophobia; religious intolerance; dictatorships; theocracies; sexism; homophobia, the transfer of sin and its punishment from the guilty to the innocent; and other practices which are abhorrent -- or becoming abhorrent -- in today's culture. Most feel that although these practices were clearly not the will of God -- then or now -- they appear in the Bible because the authors honestly believed that God supported them. They sincerely, devoutly and thoughtfully felt that they were describing the will of God.

The Bible contains hundreds of inconsistencies. For example, the synoptic gospels -- Mark, Matthew and Luke -- clearly teach that there are two ways to reach heaven: by treating other people kindly and with love, or by emulating Jesus' lifestyle of a poverty stricken itinerant preacher. The Gospel of John clearly teaches that one goes to heaven if you accept Jesus to be the Son of God. The writings of Paul clearly state that one goes to heaven if you recognize Jesus' resurrection. For another example, many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) clearly teach that the universe has many gods. They are described in anthropomorphic terms -- deities who are large, extremely powerful, human like creatures with bodies.  It is only the later prophets who made the transition to consider Yahweh as the only God, and to accept the belief that God is a spirit.

  • Religious conservatives tend to pick certain texts as definitive -- Paul's writings on salvation and the description of God as spirit in the above two cases. Those passages which disagree are usually interpreted symbolically. Sometimes passages can only be harmonized by really stretching probability to an extreme. But conservatives do this because they believe strongly in the overriding principle of biblical inerrancy.

  • Religious liberals generally accept that the Bible shows an evolution in religious and spiritual thought. Thus, they have no problem with different and conflicting paths to salvation and different concepts of God. They would be surprised if the Bible was internally consistent.

In conclusion:

  • In general:
    • Conservative Christians generally believe the Bible to be true on all matters such as theology, morality, spirituality, astronomy, geology, biology, cosmology, etc. You cannot pick and choose what passages to believe and which to reject.

    • Liberal Christians generally believe that the Bible is helpful in spiritual and moral matters. However, we have to reject parts of it as not representing the will of God. We have to reject other parts because they established laws that are abhorrent by today's moral standards. This is what one would expect since the books were written by authors who lived in a pre-scientific era and who were tainted by primitive lifestyles and culture.

  • Since the visitor asked about homosexuality:
    • Religious conservatives tend to concentrate on the half dozen or so passages which condemn certain types of same-sex behavior and generalize those passages to refer to all same-sex activity, whether performed by two men or two women, who are involved either in a one-night stand or a committed relationship.
    • Religious liberals frequently believe that we can safely ignore biblical passages on homosexuality as we do those on human slavery, executing non-virgin brides, etc. They are simply relics from an earlier age that are:
      • Invalidated by current scientific knowledge, and/or
      • Immoral by today's different moral and ethical standards.

      Also, they might point out that -- in their belief system -- that the various passages do not refer to homosexual activity generally, and certainly not to same-sex behavior within a committed relationship. Rather they refer to very specific behaviors:

      • homosexual rape (Genesis 19)
      • homosexual ritual sex in Pagan temples (two passages in Leviticus)
      • homosexual prostitution (many places in the Old Testament)
      • men molesting boys (1 Corinthians)
      • heterosexuals engaged in homosexual behavior (Romans)
      • men engaging in bestiality (inter-species sex) with angels (Jude)

      Many view the Bible as silent on sexual activity within committed relationships, including between two men or two women who have been married in a civil or religious ceremonies in one of the  countries in the world which currently allow this (Holland, Belgium, the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut, Spain, South Africa and  Canada.

Site navigation: Home page > Comments > Questions > here

Copyright © 2003 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-APR-11
Latest update and review: 2011-FEB-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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