webadmin@spfccc.orgCommunity Christian Church of Springfield

4806 E. Cherry
Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821 


Believing What is True

August 2, 2015
Community Christian Church of Springfield, MO
Roger Ray, pastor

"There may be a conflict between soft-minded religionists and tough-minded scientists, but not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary." 
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Disney animated version of "The Little Mermaid" came out in 1989.  It so happens that my daughter was also born in that year and so the VHS tape of the children's movie was a part of early, and, tediously, a repetitive part of my life for a few years.

When she was about three years old, while watching Ariel singing with her beautiful voice, Valerie told me, very matter of factly, "That's me." "Oh," I replied, "you are a mermaid?"  "No," she said, "That's me singing, that's my voice."

Of course, my three-year-old daughter had no way of knowing about Jodi Benson who voiced the character of Ariel and many other Disney roles, she just knew that she had always loved that song and he assumed that she could just claim it as her own.

Now, it wasn't true, it wasn't realistic, but it was understandable for a three-year-old.  What is less understandable is that for 500 years, white European descendants have told themselves that Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas.  It was not until the last generation that people have begun to challenge the notion that anyone can claim to have discovered a continent that already had 90 million people living on it.
On this, our seventh anniversary of being a liberal, progressive, outpost of a church in the midst of the reddest of red American states where we are surrounded by the Assemblies of God seminary and colleges, a right wing Southern Baptist seminary and colleges, and even a state university with no religious affiliation that often seems to act like a right wing religious college, we have tried to very publicly, even globally, keep offering a progressive religious message.  But we must remember that our message, our perspective, our insights, our scholarship, did not begin with us.

We have lots of people around here who may think that we are all alone, but we are not. It has always been our stated goal to close the gap between the classroom and the pews, to bring the best of religious scholarship into corporate life of the church.  That has been so rare that it may seem to many like we are the first or the only church that does it but we are not.

There were early American progressives:  Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, and Thomas Paine, to name a few. But even some of the religious leaders who would seem to most people to be more mainstream, were really progressives.

I know of no better statement of what we mean when we say "evidence based faith" than this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that we take as our wisdom lesson today.  Fifty years ago, when he was a very young man who had recently graduated from seminary, King spoke to the alleged divide between science and religion saying:

"There may be a conflict between soft-minded religionists and tough-minded scientists, but not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary."

Many of us have felt like we have stumbled into this demythologized way of thinking and living as if we were Christopher Columbus setting foot on a previously unknown continent of liberated thinking that allows religion to do what it does best, which is to contemplate meaning and ethics, and let's science and reason do what it does best, investigate, discover, analyze and record.

None of the ancient biblical writers were trying to be deceptive or misleading.  They tried to account for the world in the best way that they could.  They were often wrong about history and science, but they were surprisingly insightful, at times, about people, ethics, about living and loving and forgiving.

You look at a fairly embarrassing passage of scripture, like Genesis 6 and Numbers 13 that refer to the giants, called the Nephilim, who once roamed the earth who were the product of the sons of God having affairs with the daughters of earth.  In Numbers the text says that we are like grasshoppers compared to them.

These texts are obviously echoes of ancient myths that found their way into the Bible but when people in those days happened upon the fossilized bones of a dinosaur when they had no knowledge of any such animal having ever lived on earth, and given how anthropocentric humans always are, they could only assume that these were the bones of giants.  Some ancient cathedrals actually displayed dinosaur bones as relics of the Nephilim, not because they were stupid or because they were trying to be deceptive, but because it was, for them a logical explanation.

What is stupid is to take an uninformed explanation and turn it into a doctrine or a creed and declare that you have to believe that it is true in spite of better evidence and reasoning.

The Great Dane, Søren Kierkegaard, said that there are two ways to be wrong.  One is to believe what is not true and the other is to refuse to believe what is true.  Anyone can be guilty of being mistaken about the facts but when you hold onto a mistaken world view once you have had the facts revealed to you then you are choosing to be stupid and that, men and women, I submit, is a great deal of what is wrong with modern religion.

The absurdities of traditional Christian creeds have been exposed over and over to the point that there really is no excuse for thinking people to keep trying to reinvest themselves in primitive myths.  Robert Ingersoll, a 19th century lawyer, a hundred and twenty years ago, said: The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while a dependence upon reason, observation, and experience merits everlasting pain, is too absurd for refutation.
It is too absurd to seriously discuss and yet so many people seem to be resigned to that mental prison.  Michael Larsen posted a meme on his Face Book page yesterday that show Jesus in a cloudy heaven surrounded by angels and the caption read, "Love your enemies, while I torture mine in hell for all eternity."  How can people not see the inherent lunacy of this?

Many Americans have become so disgusted and so disillusioned with how backward the church is, how much science denying, other worldly mumbo-jumbo it dispenses, that they have given up on the church and looked outside of our own culture for some guidance.

We are fortunate that the Dalai Lama has become so proficient in English that he has become a real source of light to those who will not hear reason from Christian scholars.  The Dalai Lama has said: This is my simple religion.  There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.

In our church, we do not owe any fealty to any ancient books or to institutional constructs that define god or faith narrowly or absurdly.  We are on a path of discovery, not unmoored from our Christian heritage in the instructive teachings of Jesus, the prophets and the saints, but not obliged to parrot their views of science, history, or even of morality and sexuality.

We have willingly given up false certainty in favor of honest uncertainty. In seven years time we have moved from being a liberal, progressive, Christian church for a handful of church alumni association members in Springfield into being a global church, affirming the faith traditions of all of the world's religions while being primarily focused on a fact based approach to spirituality that addresses the real and profound needs of people and of the earth itself.

I love the church we have become and I look forward to seeing who we will be in another year, or two, or three.  I hope that there will be more members of our tribe and that we will find sympathetic faith communities springing up all over the world.

We didn't invent progressive faith but we are trying to make it look good.

Roger L. Ray, D.Min. 

Community Christian Church
4806 E. Cherry Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up." (Martin Luther King, Jr. - Nobel Speech)
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