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Issue No. 117-a (August 2008) – Mark Satin, Editor

Listen, centrist!
The Bible is contested meta-political ground

Over 70 of you sent emails to this newsletter in response to my article “The Bible Is Our One Essential Political Book” (June / July 2008), and I wove some representative emails into a follow-up article below.  Enjoy!

During the weaving, I was reminded of something I’d realized on my Radical Middle book tour back in 2004-05 – people are ALWAYS wiser collectively than they are as individuals behind a desk or podium.  Here’s hoping our democracy learns to absorb our collective wisdom better and more systemically than it does at present!


One movement, two minds

Alas, alack

And thus is “a noble mind o’erthrown.”

Paul Ray
Co-author, The Cultural Creatives (2000)
Co-creator, Cultural Creatives website
San Rafael, Calif.



This is an incredible article, Mark!  Well done.

P.M.H. Atwater
Author, Runes of the Goddess (2007)
Co-creator, P.M.H. Atwater website
Charlottesville, Va.


Irrational and absurd

The Bible?????

You better check my Web page, The Final Freedoms, before placing any bets on the mythmakers of the irrational and absurd.

Robert Landbeck
Web journalist
Dedham, Me. / London, England


Spiritual and strong

Your Bible article really surprised me, since I’ve always thought you had a flat side on spirituality.  I am glad you continue strong and willing to explore new territory.

Carl House
Co-creator, Beloved Community website
Boca Raton, Fla.


Is the Bible our “essential political” book?

More like irrelevant

Let us agree that your ideal -- a master-text as a guide to political activism (and philosophy) -- is desirable.  But the Bible?

Granted that the Scriptures are profound, utterly valuable for many reasons, and filled with insight.  But many other books are more valuable in the realm of politics.

You listed ten books you’d studied only to set aside as inadequate master-texts.  But I was rather flabbergasted about your omissions.  Several tomes you didn't mention have, for many years (or centuries), been seen as essential to any kind of understanding of the political enterprise.

At the top of that list is Plato's The Republic, with its sequel, The Laws.  I mean, this is crucial stuff and deals with the interface of morality and governance, the issue of meritocracy vs. democracy, the appropriate role of leaders in politics, and much more.

Granted that if the focus of attention is values, then the Bible has more to say, and says it better -- even far better.  Because I regard values issues as trumping all other kinds of issues, the Bible is # 1 among all the books I’ve read.  But if we are discussing POLITICS, then the Bible not only trails Plato’s Republic.  It also trails

  • Mill, On Liberty

  • Machiavelli, The Prince

  • Vico, The New Science

  • Durkheim, Socialism

  • Rousseau, The Social Contract

  • Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation

  • Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology

  • Samuel Lubell, The Future of American Politics

  • William Irwin Thompson, At the Edge of History

  • Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform

  • Hedrick Smith, The Power Game

And while I'm not sure which books of theirs to cite, any list of dominant political thinkers ought to include Burke, Locke, Jefferson, Hayek, Rauschenbusch [a leader of the old U.S. social gospel movement – ed.], and -- very selectively -- Marx.

This is anything but an endorsement of all these thinkers and their writings.  But no way in hell can I say such political philosophers are less “essential” than the political philosophy of the Bible.  To be blunt about it, the Bible as a purported “political” text is mostly irrelevant to the modern world.

When all is said, there is no “master text” of political wisdom to turn to.  Each of us must stitch one together from our study of the subject as best we can.

Billy Rojas
Activist and former college teacher
Eugene, Ore.


It’s number one

I have read Billy’s letter (immediately above), and I think he is fundamentally missing Mark’s point.

Mark seems pretty clearly NOT to be arguing for the Bible as a text whose political systems we ought to emulate.  Rather, I believe he is claiming we need a “moral anchor” to act as a “meeting point” around which those with divergent political views can come together for both debate and wisdom.  And he sees the Bible as uniquely capable of playing that role, at least in the U.S.

I think Mark is also saying – as he’s said in different ways since the 1970s – that we first and foremost need to develop an understanding of both the grandeur and terror of what it means to be human.  Only then are we truly fit to engage in practical politics.

Sure, there are many great books and writers on political theory.  But even super-knowledgeable Billy had to list 18 of them to capture a balanced perspective.  If we had to pick one book that was ESSENTIAL for everyone involved in politics to understand FIRST, I’d agree it is the Bible.

Dr. Ernest Prabhahar
Editor, RadicalCentrism.org
Open source product manager for famous computer company
Santa Clara, Calif.


Is the Bible necessary?

I’ll take rationalism

I was heavily involved in late-1960s-through-1970s radical politics, union activism, etc.  I still feel that capitalism is anti-human, that it fosters competition over community.  How does your new regard for the Bible set with this?

I like Jacob Needleman’s ideas regarding the value of philosophy – rationalism – to help solve our shared problems.  Chalking up our human problems to not understanding “the” deity seems like going backward.

Huston Smith proved to me that all religions have good human values.  The Ten Commandments can be followed without the help of a Bible.  I work with too many young folks that have given up thinking for Bible reading . . . sad.

When we turn off our brains and choose to believe rather than think, it feels to me like giving up.  Dope of a different order, but still mind numbing.

Bill Delucchi
Information provider, Kaiser Foundation Hospital
Oakland, Calif.


Nailing human nature

Mark, you have done an absolutely masterful analysis of the Bible.  You give insight as to why thinking people can find deep meaning there: It offers real insight into human nature for all time.

Andrew Weiszmann
Writer and political consultant
Chicago, Ill.


It's an important ethical and metaphorical document

The Bible is certainly the founding document of Western civilization.  And one can certainly say that it is an invaluable ancient book of explorations of the human condition.

But like all the other commentators, you extract meaning from it in your own context.

Jefferson, you may recall, physically went through a Bible and extracted the actual / purported word of Jesus (set down by scribes who never knew him, forty years after he died, and selected by a political gathering) as the most sublime ETHICAL SYSTEM ever set forth.  That made a lot of sense to me, and I have reread it recently.

But to the extent that the Bible tells us what God wants, what God gets honked about, what God prescribes, when God changes his omnipotent mind, etc. – that gives us no [political] argument for or against anything, unless you really believe there is a Supreme Being up in the sky, or pervasive between the atoms, or somewhere, who preexists time and space, pays attention to and selectively meddles in human affairs, is flattered by worship, and maintains an eternal resort for the chosen deceased.

I have an insuperable amount of trouble believing that an intelligent human can swallow all this.  And if one can’t, then one has only a book of metaphorical tales, written down by the ancient Jews that are worth reading to expand human understanding and wisdom.

P.S.  I read Marx early too, and decided forthwith that he was a menace to human civilization.

John McClaughry
President, Ethan Allen Institute
Former Senior Policy Advisor to President Ronald Reagan
Concord, Vt.


The Golden Rule is enuff

Well, you tapped into the old Presbyterian upbringing with that one!  Been humming the old hymns all weekend.

I’ve often thought of doing what you did – reading the whole Bible to see what I missed (I wasn’t really paying that much attention in Sunday School).  But now I’m glad I didn’t.

Glad because your discourse gave me two crucial insights.  First, all you really need to know and follow from any “bible” is the Golden Rule: Do unto others. . . .  Second, the Bible was really the religio-socio-politico Wikipedia of its time.

Waaaay too much work for me – as is Wikipedia today.  So it’s easier to fall back on the Golden One and keep my head down.

Alvah White
Evanston, Ill.


Is the Bible accessible?

Studying it competently

I started out as a Methodist and stayed with that for many years and was very active in leadership.  I’m a Unitarian Universalist now (and belong to the American Humanist Association as well!).  I can tell from your RE:SOURCES section that you are making a very good approach to your study of the Bible.

I only wish you would have – near the beginning of your article (rather than at the end, in RE:SOURCES) – written about the importance of first reading a good text on how to study the Bible.  It is so important for folks to know the background of the writer of each book of the Bible, who the person was writing to and for what purpose, what was going on at the time of the writing, etc.

Jim Pritchard
Treasurer, Ice Age Floods Institute
Ephrata, Wash.


Studying it critically

In your Bible article you point out that about 40 million Americans are studying the Bible in groups.

I’d be far more impressed if more than maybe 2% of that tally actually had any idea at all about how to study it critically – for hard truths, rather than as a text that necessarily must support the theology of their domination, or affirm their a priori personal philosophy.

Billy Rojas
Activist and former college teacher
Eugene, Ore.


Studying it happily

I like the stress you put on making the Bible accessible to people.

I am currently teaching The Story (Zondervan, rev. 2008), an innovative version of the Bible that puts everything in chronological order.  It is considerably shorter – 400 pages as opposed to 1,500 or more – and transitions are accomplished by means of brief editorial summaries in boldface.

But The Story is not a paraphrase.  All text comes directly from the “Today’s New International Version” (TNIV) translation, arguably the clearest contemporary translation we have now.  Although the TNIV is preferred by most evangelical and conservative Christians to your NRSV [New Revised Standard Version], it is just as academically reputable and just as gender-neutral.

This brief, narrative version of the Bible should appeal to busy Americans who are not terribly familiar with the traditional Bible.  And it works for young people – my current charges -- who naturally gravitate to seeing the Bible as a single story that’s as readable as a Harry Potter novel.

Although I’ve been a Bible student for decades, I am finding The Story personally helpful as well as helpful in my teaching.

Jim Strasma
Bible teacher, Willow Creek Community Church
Editor, Man in the Middle website
South Barrington, Ill.


Thinking about the Jesus stories

He didn’t die for our sins

You certainly did your research for this, Mark.  Good for you.  You are producing real articles [actually, drafts of book chapters – ed.], not just blogging.

Marcus Borg is my favorite of the folks you read.  Take a look at his recent book The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem (2006).  Borg says, in effect, Don’t ask why Jesus died (he certainly didn’t think he died to save you from your sins).  Ask why he was killed!

And the answer Borg comes up with is exactly what you point out (in your "Revelation" sub-section): Jesus was confronting the domination system in all its aspects.

Frank Basler
Principal, Basler Associates: Helping Organizations Bring Out the Best in Their People
Senior Advisor, The DeSai Group: Learning, Innovation and Values
Bridgeport, Conn.


Resurrection = rebirth = hope

Good article!  On Jesus’ resurrection, I always thought of that as the “spring rebirth” thing, when things you thought were dead turn out to be alive and start to bloom.

So Jesus’ resurrection is a metaphor for renewal and rebirth or more abstractly, hope.

Diane Satin
Professor, Department of Accounting and Finance, College of Business and Economics, California State University-East Bay
Hayward, Calif.


The “end times” have come and gone

Very perceptive article, thanks.  On the “end times” issue, I have found that many folks of every era read themselves into the Biblical stories t-o-o-o-o much.  In other words, they take it that just because Jesus talked about the end times, therefore we are going through them.

I am a futurist, and I’ve just had published an article on the historical Jesus that talks about his “mid-range” or “generational” horizon.  I think this is important to emphasize – the great Revolt, the End, the tribulation Jesus envisioned, was one his generation encountered.

The founding story of the Jesus movement was vindicated in the first century.  “The End” came in 70 a.d. – not of this world, but of the Temple-based system of God worship.  That religious world was then re-invented from the inside out, amidst chaos (e.g., Jerusalem’s collapse) and exile.

The concept of Jesus’ generational time horizon is a much-needed corrective to those who assume the Bible is an unfinished story.  In fact, the story of redemption or covenantal renewal has already occurred.  It is fulfilled.  We now live in universal history, not Bible history.

The story continues to resonate, as you say.  But we must realize we are not the central characters.

Jay Gary
Foresight coach
Co-chair, Christian Futures Network
Colorado Springs, Colo.


Did Jesus encourage wealth and investing?

He warned about the consequences of wealth

Hey, we’re in synch on the Bible as “the one essential political book,” though I think wealth gets treated more harshly by Jesus than you apparently do (in your “Jesus on Wealth” section).

I think the Hidden Talent story, which you discuss, is less about money and investing wisely than it is a metaphor about other “gifts.”  And I think the “eye of the needle” passage, which you fail to discuss, is a clear warning about the consequences of wealth and Money-Love and related snares.

You should look at what I think of as a good Radical Middle biblical source, John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus (2nd ed. 1994).  It’s one of my favorite books, and includes chapters with titles like “The Implications of the Jubilee” and “The Possibility of a Messianic Ethics.”

Bill Peltz
Editor, Brother Billy’s Bible Blog
Albany, N.Y.


He warned about the practices of usury and debt

There is certainly much wisdom in the Bible.  However, you must not glide over the fact that usury is understood there as evil, and debt itself is close behind.

We need to re-institute the Jubilee [a year to forgive all debts; see Leviticus 25 – ed.].  In addition, We the People need to issue currency as a measure of relative values, not as something that’s valuable in itself.  No debt, no interest.

You once wrote about the need to capitalize our youth [see HERE, point #9].  Everyone has a right to the capital their capacities warrant.

John G. Root, Jr.
Co-creator, Cadmus Lifesharing Association
Great Barrington, Mass.


Dark side of the Bible

It condones slavery

I would not attack Huckleberry Finn (as you say Utne Reader did), but I would criticize the Bible.

Before the Civil War, anti-abolitionists often (correctly) stated that nowhere in the “spiritual enlightenment” of the Bible was abolition of slavery ever considered a worthy goal.  True, the Old Testament tells the Hebrews how to regulate slavery, but it doesn’t even suggest that the institution might someday be abolished, for the good of all.

On the other hand, it does dawn on the mind of Huck, a simple boy with little schooling or Biblical education, that slavery is wrong.

Draw your own conclusion, Mr. Spiritual Centrist.

Reg Reid
Prison correctional officer
Palestine, Tex.


It condemns gays

Your approach to the Bible is naive.  You quote openly homosexual Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson as saying, “We don’t ignore any passage in the Bible.”  Is that so?  Actually, Robinson and his deluded supporters ignore numerous passages at will.

For you to take Robinson’s spiel prima facie shows just how ill-informed about the contents of the Bible you still are.  As for Robinson, allow me to point out the obvious.  In 10 books of each testament, in a minimum of 24-25 passages, the Bible condemns homosexually unequivocally.  There are NO exceptions.

This means that all Robinson’s (and your) appeals to “love and understanding” as a sort of universal solvent that gives one wiggle room for toleration of homosexuality, are utterly specious.

Here are the 24 passages which you treat as non-existent (the 25th – the only one you refer to in your article – is Robinson’s Leviticus passage, admittedly the weakest of them because of its context):

Old Testament on homosexuality -- Genesis 18:20 and 19:5-8, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Deuteronomy 12:32, Judges 19:22-30, Isaiah 1:4-10 and 3:9, Jeremiah 23:14, Lamentations 4:6, Ezekiel 16:46-58, Amos 4:11, and Zephaniah 2:9

New Testament on homosexuality -- Matthew 10:15 and 11:23-24, Luke 17:29-30, Romans 1:26-32, I Corinthians 6:9, Galatians 4:21, I Timothy 1:10, James 2:10, II Peter 2:6, Jude 7, Revelation 11:7-8 (some ambiguity here, but the passage can be read to say that Satan is a homosexual)

I am well aware of the attempts to explain away at least some of these passages (such as those in Peter Gomes's book, which you cite several times). Want to know my opinion of such “explanations”?  ALL are completely untruthful.

Of course, now that you are ensconced in the San Francisco Bay Area you hardly want to see these passages.  And since you’d prefer not to see them, you don’t look for them, let alone read them.  Well, now you don’t have to look for them – I’ve just listed them for you.

But relax.  I know your Bay Area Bible has a few extra books that you can console yourself by.  It has, for instance, the Old Testament Book of Harvey Milk, and the New Testament Epistle of Castro Street.

Billy Rojas
Activist and former college teacher
Eugene, Ore.


Light side of the Bible

Moses loved homeopathy

Congrats on your article about the Bible.  Attached is Chapter 13, “Clergy and Spiritual Leaders,” from my new book The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy (North Atlantic / Random House, 2007).

On pp. 2-4 of that chapter I have some amazing stories about Moses’ “innate sense” of homeopathy that will blow your mind.

Dana Ullman, M.P.H.
Founder, Homeopathic Educational Services
Berkeley, Calif.


Mark loves Left Behind

Did you really read Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’s bestseller about the saved and those who were left behind, Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days (1995)?  And call it a “fun read”?  “You are a better man than I, Gunga Din,” generous and appreciative.

Wynell Hosch
Former English professor
Dallas, Tex.

Dear Wynell: I confess to having smiled and even laughed while reading Left Behind.  I’m not sure I’d call that generous, though.  The world is a fascinating place . . . and people’s minds are even more fascinating.  We cannot change it without knowing those minds intimately.  And anyway, who among us hasn’t wished for the insensitive, the greedy, the hypocritical, and the power-obsessed to finally get their comeuppance (or in this case, stay-downance)?  Seems like a perfectly harmless & actually even energizing fantasy to me.


Beyond the Bible?

Following the Gnostic Gospels

Thanks for all that amazing-as-usual effort on the Bible, an important book in human history I’m sure!

In my own learning, I have been following along after the Gnostic Gospels, which were uncovered the year I was born, 1945, in Nag Hammadi, Egypt [“Gnostic” means “relating to spiritual knowledge” – ed.].

As you may know, the New Testament was an “edited” version [by the church fathers, in 357 a.d. – ed.] of what all the Gospels said.  And the most important aspects missing are the feminist.  There are gospels by Mary the mother of Jesus, and by Mary Magdalene.  All of this is written about in Elaine Pagels’s fascinating and fun book The Gnostic Gospels (1979).

In Pagels’s recent follow-up book, Beyond Belief (2003), she contrasts the suppressed and very androgynous Gospel of Thomas to the canonized Gospel of John:

John says we can experience God only through the divine light embodied in Jesus.  But certain passages in Thomas’s gospel draw a quite different conclusion: that the divine light Jesus embodied is shared by humanity, since we are all made ‘in the image of God.'  Thus Thomas expresses what would become a central theme of Jewish – and later Christian – mysticism a thousand years later: that the ‘image of God’ is hidden within everyone, although most people remain unaware of its presence. . . .  By claiming that Jesus alone embodies the divine light, John [overcame] Thomas’s claim that this light may be present in everyone.

One of the most important needs of our time is the “liberation” of the feminine, in men and women alike.  So the suppression of the women writers in the canonical New Testament is especially troubling to me[, despite the positive things the feminist scholars you link to (in your “Seven Commandments” section) may now be saying about women Bible characters].

Both the Old Testament and New Testament are too male for my taste.  We need the women to be free and heard.

P.S.  I especially loved one of your alternative “master texts,” Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a work of genius.  But do you recall how it ends?  We don’t know, so tread softly . . . wisely. . . .

Neal H. Hurwitz
President, Neal H. Hurwitz & Associates (funding / development consultants)
Executive Director, Campaign for Stuyvesant [High School] Endowment Fund, Inc.
New York, N.Y.


Entering the Aquarian Age

I found your article on “depthful and holistic” Bible study of interest.  However, your effort to make sense of the intellectual circuits of a passing age is not where the action is.

As we move from the Piscean period to the Age of Aquarius, the values and symbols of the Piscean period (which inaugurated the Christian era) will fade.  Since the Piscean period is about 2000 years of the astrological cycle, the Christian era has faded without too much resistance – though there are still a few people who have not yet heard of the New Age.

What is more troublesome is Islam, which entered the Piscean cycle 600 years late but using all the same Piscean religious and legal structures.  Now Islam is being asked to leave the stage of history before it thinks its time is up, and Muslims are digging in their heels as the sands of time slip away under them.

The Age of Aquarius will not have an external guide in the form of a book or a master teacher like Jesus.  Rather, the teaching will come through the development of higher forms of consciousness – the development of the Higher Self with the integration of body, soul, and spirit.

There are writers such as Carl Jung, Roberto Assagioli (father of psychosynthesis), and Abraham Maslow who point in the right direction, but they can only point.  The real work has to be done with an exploration of the Higher Self by oneself.

It is likely that reading the Bible can be useful for some – there is worse literature around.  But reading does not replace making new paths by oneself.

Rene Wadlow
Editor, Transnational Perspectives Journal
U.N. Representative (Geneva), Association of World Citizens
Gravieres, France


Is the Bible even useful? (I)

Stale textual interpretation

Fer catsake why not take up with the Christian and Jewish mystics who have something going for them rather than stale textual interpretation?

Paul Ray
Co-author, The Cultural Creatives (2000)
Co-creator, Cultural Creatives website
San Rafael, Calif.


The only thing that makes sense

Thank you for this part of your journey, Mark.

I've spent 30 years working with and befriending street people, the mentally ill, the criminally involved and homeless.  At the same time, I have worked with and befriended the rich, the middle class, the bureaucracy, and the powerful.

I find us all to be sinners on a mysterious journey.  The Bible is about the only thing that makes sense to me.  And the understanding it brings to my life is likely why, at 59, I still greet the morning with curiosity and quiet happiness.

Judy Graves
Housing and homeless advocate
Coordinator, Tenant Assistance Program for the City of Vancouver
Vancouver, B.C., Canada


Is the Bible even useful? (II)

Beyond my comprehension

will read carefully what you have to say about g-d, having just read why do bad things happen to good people, why do good things happen to good people, and why there is something rather than nothing.

[I am afraid] the godthing is beyond my comprehension; [I am true] softie lib-lab, still [believe in] class struggle, wretched of the earth overwhelms [me], and the theodicy caper remains too unresolved.  but i will read

Saul Mendlovitz
Dag Hammarskjold Professor, Rutgers Law School-Newark
International Steering Committee, Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict
New York, N.Y.


Safety in chaos

One of the messages of the Church of the Transfiguration (where I go) is the importance of community, sometimes even its value over the individual in the great historical sweep.

I’ve been influenced by Sophocles et al. enough to have serious doubts about that.  But I think what is meant most often is that the individual can come to his true flowering with the support of the community, as well as that the community can help the individual not sway off into the weeds (or be there to help him back up).

Another reason I go to Transfiguration is my own craving for ritual and good language plopped in the middle of real life.  Episcopalians refer to “smells and bells” when incense and trumpets come out for the high holy days, or as our Catholic friends say, “holy days of obligation.”  I love the flowers and candles, the vestments and the procession.  That sense of the mystical, the unfathomed, the safety in chaos.

Wynell Hosch
Former English professor
Dallas, Tex.


ADDENDUM: Even More Letters

Many letters came in after I put our "Multilogue" (above) to bed, and I found some of them so stimulating that I had to add them here. - M.S.

Bible and Politics – Some Skeptics

The Bible is a Great Book, but not “our one ESSENTIAL political book,” as you claim [“The Bible (?!?!) Is Our One Essential Political Book,” June / July 2008].  I am surprised that you of all people would succumb to such a narrow view.

I suggest that you go on to read the Koran, the Analects of Confucius, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Dharma – all important texts providing moral (and political) guidance to millions of earthlings.

Elsa A. Porter
Health care activist
Former Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Carter Administration
Portland, Ore.


Are you going to give the Torah, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Eightfold Path, the Koran, the Tao, the I Ching (my own nomination for the wisdom we need), or the Vedas the same treatment?

Elmer Brunsman
Former radio host, “The Elmer Brunsman Show,” Oakland CA
Adjunct Instructor of Communication, Marist College
Poughkeepsie, N.Y.


your use of the bible leaves me in an abc mode (amused, bemused, confused).

one genuine concern amongst others: very western-civilization parochial.  what about bhagavad-gita, upanishads, confucius’ ana(hoo-ha), rastafarians, wiccahs, animists, and the kaballah as practiced by those global citizens madonna and alex rodriguez.  gandhi – shall we go on

Saul Mendlovitz
Co-author, On the Creation of a Just World Order
Member, Council on Foreign Relations
New York, N.Y.


What surprised me was not that you would study the Bible – lots of people continue to do that.  What surprised me was that you could stay interested in that study!

Somewhere in the responses to your article [“Listen, Centrist!,” June 2008], someone suggested that you see the Bible as a kind of foundation for all of us to use in dialogue.  I would not want the Bible to be used as any kind of foundation in a world I want to see.  I liked Billy Rojas’s response, that we should use Plato’s works and other political philosophers’ writings instead.  But we shouldn’t even use them as a foundation, just as guidelines.

My favorite response was from Rene Wadlow, who said that in this new age of Aquarius we’re all required to move toward a higher consciousness.  That sounds vague, I know, but it resonates with my personal experience in living and searching for my own foundation.

I do not condemn anyone who uses the Bible, but I think it could be very destructive if we attempted to use it for our entire society.  I’d have to move to a country with a more open approach to life!

Edryce Reynolds
Co-President, Tacoma Area PC Users Group
Tacoma, Wash.


I consider myself a pragmatic visionary, not a romantic idealist.  If you remember, it is stated in the Old Testament that “without a vision the people perish.”  (It does NOT state, “Without an ideal. . . .”)  A vision gives us a goal, a lode star which orients and inspires us to continue striving for greater fidelity to our values.  An ideal, by contrast, gives us a measuring stick by which to judge ourselves and – especially – others.

The Scriptures call us to become sacraments of Divine Love, not avenging angels.  “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.”  Not that God is vengeful, but S/He alone is capable of judging rightly, without the prejudice of narcissistic egoism.

Your article does not even seem to recognize the problem of interpretation (“hermeneutics”).  How many sincere, Bible-believing Christians, inspired by verses interpreted out of context, wrongly assume the role of self-righteous accuser?

Carol Dworkowski-Willard
Freelance writer and editor
Annapolis, Md.


You express an interest in the Bible as being a rallying device for disparate views and positions.  My experience with lay and professional biblicists is that they are rather myopic regarding other views and not particularly dialogic when sharing their own.

And I have extensive credentials here.  I organized Bible studies while in college, stimulated home-based Bible studies for the unchurched while in seminary, and am a lapsed United Church of Christ minister.  I have also apprenticed with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, traveled for World Vision, and participated in starting a missionary organization in South Africa.

These experiences have led me to put people interested in the Bible at the bottom of my list of preferred contacts.

Don Ehat
Fort Myers, Fla.


Although I am a Christian, I would argue against the Bible being seen as THE BOOK to guide us into our political future.

This is not a transformative ideal.  Religion in all it finest glory is divisive, and is just as partisan as our current political trends of Democrat / Republican initiatives.  Forward thinking and rational perspectives covet the elements of right-thinking, progressive global trends such as a unified ethos, and the development and establishment of dialogue within community.

What can be done, however, is to offer a perspective that is inclusive of what all religions offer -- FAITH and hopes of the betterment of humanity and nurturing its sustainability for the future.  By examining the underlying precepts of the greatest religions of the world, similar basic theological components can be found.

Phyllis Robinson
Ph.D. student
Lake Jackson, Tex.


Bible and Politics – Some Positive Views

I am not a Christian and have been brought up in a Hindu, semi-Western, and middle-class family.  I liked your remark that the Bible is good for dialogue and brings about a convergence of left- and right-wing thinking [“The Bible (?!?!) Is Our One Essential Political Book,” June / July 2008].

I find the philosophy of the Bible to have a remarkable similarity with that of the Hindu scriptures, namely the Ramayana and the Gita, and I am deeply impressed with the sincerity with which you interpret the gist of the Bible.  Thanks for showing us your spiritual side.  Long live the Bible!

Bireshwar Banerjee
New Delhi, India


Last month I gave a sermon at our local Unity Church on the major shift that has recently occurred in the field of near-death studies.  That afternoon I followed up with a workshop.  There was an abundance of people present who are indeed part of this new trend in Bible study and reading – people not interested in returning to mainstream churches nor the dogma that maintains them, but people discovering or rediscovering the power of biblical teachings.

One man voiced, “It’s all there, all that I want to know.  I’ve been going from one New Age source to another, Buddhism, Hinduism, and on and on.  The Bible has it all and in terms I can understand and put to work in my life.”  How’s that for a revelation?

That truly is happening nationwide.  People are turning away from the Kabbalah and other such popular texts and are crowding into Bible classes, also [studying] the metaphysics of the Bible.  But they don’t want the dogma, the clerical or religious interpretations.  They just want the Bible itself, no trimming.  And they are amazed at what is in that book and how relevant it is to their lives.

P.M.H. Atwater
Author, The Big Book of Near-Death Experiences
Co-Creator, The Website of P.M.H. Atwater
Charlottesville, Va.


Your article consisting of responses to your article on the Bible and politics [“Listen, Centrist!,” August 2008] was an interesting read.  And I’m wondering as you are reflecting on it – have you noticed that atheists and secular humanists can manifest their beliefs at a fundamentalist level?

There’s a knee-jerk reaction – humorlessness, eagerness to condemn, lack of curiosity about other positions, etc. – that always seems to signal a fundamentalist point of view.  Fundamentalist Christians, fundamentalist Muslims, fundamentalist atheists, fundamentalist humanists – the reactions are surprisingly similar, and are NOT compatible with the Radical Middle!

Judy Graves
Housing and homeless advocate
Coordinator, Tenant Assistance Program for the City of Vancouver
Vancouver, B.C., Canada


Bible and Democracy

In your article of responses to your article on the Bible and politics [“Listen, Centrist!,” August 2008], you wrote:

. . . you’ll be left wishing that our democracy better knew how to make use of our collective wisdom on spiritual / political issues.

Mark, NOW you are starting to talk my language!  Our Wisdom Council process is intended to achieve this.

Jim Rough
Principal, Jim Rough & Associates, Inc.
Port Townsend, Wash.


Agreed, it would be nice if “our democracy better knew how to make use of our collective wisdom on spiritual / political issues.”  Except it is US that has the power.  We have to make use of it.  Democracy does not “do” anything.

Proprietor, Two Fishes Swimming
Phoenix, Ariz.


The Bible and the Journalist

Once again you’ve written a thoughtful, provocative, outside-the-box piece [“The Bible (?!?!) Is Our One Essential Political Book,” June / July 2008].  I printed it out and have read it several times.  And yet, I couldn’t help but compare this article to your amazing, original piece on tackling poverty [“What the Poor Need Now,” March / April 2008].

The poverty piece was largely about your observations and reactions, your insights, and your prescriptions.  The Bible piece was less about your reactions to your own “depthful and holistic” reading of the Bible, and more a summary of what experts and scholars have to say about the Bible.

If I could phrase this as a writing coach might, I’d say that the writer of the poverty piece clearly felt comfortable about his subject matter, whereas the writer of the Bible piece felt the need to rely on the opinions of others.

But thanks for this good piece!  Reading it has been time well spent.

David Yamada
Professor, Suffolk University Law School
Boston, Mass.


I have just read your tough-minded article on the suitability of the Bible as the master guide for our nation.  What is really lovely is your handling of the article.  For one of the first times, I don’t detect anger.  You “let the light shine through” without trying to bend it.  Bravo!

Sandra Wassilie
Graduate student in creative writing / poetry, San Francisco State University
Oakland, Calif.


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New Options Newsletter, 1984-1992 (includes back issue PDFs!)

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