Thought-provoking incoming Emails, with our responses
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:
- Promoting one religion over another.
- Promoting a religious lifestyle as superior to a secular lifestyle.
- 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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Protestants, other Evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, liberal
Protestants, Roman Catholics,
Eastern Orthodox followers,
Christian Scientists, a small percentage of Unitarian Universalists,
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
- 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
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
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
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 --
are large, extremely powerful, human like creatures with bodies. It is
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 --
writings on salvation and the description of God as spirit in the above
cases. Those passages which disagree are usually interpreted symbolically.
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
surprised if the Bible was internally consistent.
- 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
all same-sex activity, whether performed by two men or two women, who are
a one-night stand or a committed relationship.
- Religious liberals frequently believe that we can safely ignore biblical passages
homosexuality as we do those on human slavery, executing non-virgin
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
in a civil or religious ceremonies in one of the countries in the
which currently allow this (Holland, Belgium,
the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut, Spain, South Africa and Canada.
Copyright © 2003 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2003-APR-11
Latest update and review: 2011-FEB-12
Author: B.A. Robinson