Ever since professional provocateur Christopher Hitchens published God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything he has become the patron saint of 21st century atheism. But is Hitchens really an atheist? Here at LivingHour.org we’ve always suspected no; that Hitchen’s diatribes were directed toward simply the literal sects of religion and those who anthropomorphize God as an old man in the clouds, living in a gated community with pearly gates.
Hitchens is currently starring in the new documentary Collision, with Pastor Douglas Wilson. Unfortunately, like most ‘religious’ experts who battle Hitchens, Wilson tries to out-intellectualize the Vanity Fair writer, fails miserably, and ultimately the whole debate devolves into two peacocks pruning. To promote their new movie, Hitchens and Wilson published opposing articles in today’s Huffington Post. Hitchen’s post is titled Religion Is Absurd, while Wilson’s counterpoint is elegantly titled Atheists Suck at Being Atheists.
In Hitchen’s article, the ‘atheist’ finally lets it slip that he is indeed not an atheist. He writes:
The great cultural question before us is therefore this: can we manage to preserve what is numinous and transcendent and ecstatic without giving any more room to the superstitious and the supernatural.
Numinous? Transcendant? Ecstatic? Let’s quickly run down what these terms mean. Numinous: describes the presence or power of a divinity. Transcendent: beyond and outside the ordinary range of human experience or understanding. Ecstatic: a feeling of great rapture, often used to describe a religious experience. These are all terms not commonly associated with atheism, but rather the Spiritual But Not Religious, which we suspected Hitchens of being all along (and whether he comes out and admits it or not).
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One thing that hippies, new agers, and evangelical Christians have in common is that they often are easy targets to make fun of. All their talk about peace, love, vibrations, Jesus, and the Lord (day in and day out) gets tiring and weirds more than a few people out. It makes many folks feel as though it all issues from an overwhelming sense of doubt; like these groups are trying to convince themselves that this stuff really exists.
One also feels some pity for the language itself, because when certain words are repeated over and over again their meanings become blurry and descend into gobbledygook. You know what I mean, kind sister. You get the drift, my brother. Thank the Lord that we understand each other. Let’s grab hands and feel the vibration.
Back in the 1960s, Lenny Bruce often used the most racially charged ethnic slurs in his performances. He said that by continually repeating these offensive words they would lose their taboo and power to harm. When it comes to the language of Progressive Christians and the Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR), we might take the advice of Lenny Bruce, but in reverse.
Let’s dial back the God talk, the Jesus speak, the hippie platitudes, and the new age jargon, so as to reinvigorate the language of the spirit, love, peace, and brotherhood, and to ensure that when we do use this language it has significance, power, sincerity, and real meaning.
All the things that we hold dear and wish to see more of on this earth don’t require so much that we invoke them out loud but that we act upon them in our daily lives. Peace out.
The Living Hour’s SBNR motivational series combines history, literature, philosophy, psychology, and religion to help bring about new perspectives onand spirituality. Sign up by entering your email address into the “Opening the Small Gate” box in the right corner of this web page.
On reading that Broadway was reproducing the classic 1970s musical The Wiz, we were reminded of one of its most memorable songs, Ease on Down the Road, sung by a spirited Diana Ross (Dorothy) and Michael Jackson (Scarecrow) while on their way to see The Wiz (Richard Pryor).
The song tells us don’t you carry nothing that might be a load, come on, ease on down, ease on down the road.
For Progressive Christians called by Jesus to repeatedly lay down our lives for others1, this is good advice. We are not asked to carry the burdens of others, but to lift up the fallen. Jesus teaches this in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The charitable man from Samaria doesn’t fret over the fate and circumstances of his fallen brethren but lifts him up from the road, does what he can to tend to the man’s needs, then eases on down, eases on down the road..
When we Christians feel compelled to carry the burdens of others, more often than not, it reveals a compulsion to martyrdom: a strong desire to identify ourselves with Jesus on the Cross. But it was through life and joy that Jesus sought to teach us about the kingdom of God (The Wiz), not through suffering and death.
The Living Hour’s SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) motivational series combines history, literature, philosophy, religion, and popular culture to help bring about new perspectives for Progressive Christians and anyone who seeks a better understanding of “God” and life’s purpose. Sign up to have these progressive Motivationals delivered to your e-mail box three times a week.
- This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life to receive it again. No one took it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to receive it again. This is the command which I received from my Father. – John 10:17-18 [↩]
Some folks have wondered why we still choose to identify ourselves as “Christians”; while others question our focus on Jesus Christ. A few progressive readers have taken exception with the “authority” we take on The Lord’s Prayer. After all, no one knows for sure whether Jesus of Nazareth even existed, so who are we to say what Jesus “wanted” us to believe?
Good questions all. And we could write long scholarly replies to each one, but as you have come to notice, that is not our style. We expect that Living Hour visitors know that what they read here is simply our educated opinions–ones which we have arrived at after many years of serious reflection and joyful living. If we were to use phrases such as “I think” or “It seems to me” that would be unnecessary, not to mention an insult to our old English professors who wisely counseled, “Don’t tell me it’s your opinion. I already know it’s your opinion! Just say it.”
And say it we have. But why in such a way? Well, suffice to say we keep Jesus as our centrifugal point because we are Americans/Westerners, ones who have been raised within a Christian culture and are the products of a Christian history. To cut ourselves off from that would be like cutting off an appendage. It is ill advised. Rather than abandon Christianity, it is our duty to lift it up and reclaim the spirituality of Jesus from the gatekeepers of religion–in other words, the organized Protestant and Catholic Churches who refuse to evolve and meet the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs of their 21st century congregations.
The term “Progressive Christian” though does not necessarily identify someone who shares these evolutionary spiritual beliefs. So in the spirit of camaraderie, and building a community of like-minded individuals that share a common vision (and helping these people find each other), we offer the term SBNR Christian or SBNR Progressive Christian–which can serve as a descriptive for new blogs and websites.
We can expect great diversity in SBNRand among SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) Christians, but the core beliefs might be defined as follows:
1) A belief that Jesus was a prophet, and that his divinity is one in which we all share, as Sons and Daughters of God.
2) A belief that we should not abandon Christian traditions and iconography, but reinterpret, refashion, and reinvent them.
3) A belief that reason and faith walk hand in hand.
If you launch an SBNR Christianity website and would like us to link to you, please drop us an email at living (at) livinghour.org.
Lastly, for those who might say that being an SBNR Christian is a contradiction in terms, we point them towards the post: Praising Contradictions.
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In news, the website SBNR.org was launched in April in Grand Haven, Michigan. The new organization aims to serve the world-wide population of people that describe themselves as spiritual but not religious (SBNR). It is estimated that in the United States alone over fifty million people are SBNR. The company was founded by Ian Lawton, an independent spiritual teacher and the former Vicar of St. Matthew in the City (Auckland, New Zealand). Today he leads an emerging group of Progressive Christians at Christ Community Church (C3) in West Michigan, which has a sizeable population of church alumni.
SBNR.org offers spiritual services to individuals that find little or no connection with traditional religion. “As humanity evolves so too should the way we experience spirituality,” explains Ian Lawton. “Living impassioned, ethical and spiritual lives outside of organized religion is part of this evolution. It’s not surprising that spiritual people seek to be affirmed outside of the dogmatic traditions. Our purpose is to promote wonder and the rapture of truly being alive.”
SBNR.org provides written, audio and video content using the most recent technological advances. Daily affirmations, weekly sermons, spiritual articles and other content are delivered for free via the Internet and email. Recently the company launched Today’s SBNR Affirmation, a website that delivers short spiritual but not religious (SBNR) affirmations Monday through Friday. “Our purpose is to promote wonder and the rapture of truly being alive,” says Ian Lawton. “These short affirmations are designed to remind the SBNR community that the Divine is accessible in all the ordinary moments of our day.”
The company expects to launch its SBNR Facebook presence in May. Over one hundred million people log onto Facebook each day. Ian Lawton believes Facebook is a great place for spiritual people to interact and affirm their experience of God. “Wherever people meet they can celebrate the Divine. Meeting on Facebook is just as good as meeting in church,” proclaims Lawton.
Income for the company is provided solely from monthly contributions made by the community. “Our business model is simple,” says CEO Steve Frazee, “We focus on serving the SBNR community and in return we ask the community to affirm us by providing monthly contributions. It is a beautiful symbiotic relationship.”
The Living Hour welcomes SBNR.org and Ian Lawton to the online community of spiritual progressives and wishes them all the best in their work.
Please sign up for The Living Hour’s free SBNR Motivational series. This Spiritual but Not Religious series combines history, literature, philosophy, psychology, and religion to help bring about new perspectives for Progressive Christians and anyone who seeks a better understanding of “God” and life’s purpose. Sign up in the right corner of this web page to have these SBNR Motivationals delivered to your e-mail box three times a week.