Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The "Straw Man"

sunset in the desert skies
-wonder-filled natural beauty-

Yesterday I was browsing through the "CNN Belief Blog" when I came upon an article titled, "Debating Why Millennials are Leaving the Church." I did a fair amount of "debating" in my day and so the word "debate" especially jumped out at me.

There is a technique in debating circles whereby you invent a "straw man" and then argue against your invention. When using this technique, you essentially fabricate what your opponent thinks (this fabrication may have little or no relationship whatsoever to your opponent's actual position). You then attack and ague against the straw man you have created. 

When I was reading yesterday's online belief blog, I was pretty much bowled over by the "straw man" which one of the participants in the debate had invented.  Speaking on behalf of his (Millennial) generation, he articulates the reasons why he does not believe in God and has no use for religion:

The real issue is, my generation does NOT believe in the supernatural, nor do we need a magical deity giving us a punishment or a gift to actually do the right thing. I do the right thing because it makes me feel good to help other people, not because I think my soul will magically live forever after I die.

A perfect example of a "straw man." 

The problem is that I (and many people I know) do not at all believe in the kind of God he has invented and argued against. In fact, I generally agree with most of what he is saying and I am a Christian believer and and a long-time ordained priest. So here is what I actually believe (and don't believe):

I do not believe in the supernatural

At first this may sound odd, coming from someone like me, but I don't believe in nor do I desire God as an intervening supernatural power. 

Every day I intimately experience an ever abiding Holy Presence (a transcendent power) in the natural circumstances of everyday life.

I wake up in the morning and bask in the beaming rays of a newly rising sun.  I walk in the desert and stand in awe at the vast spaces and towering mountains.  At evening I sit in reverent silence in the fading glow of the Western skies. At night I am awe-struck by he raging cosmos exploding in the nighttime skies. 

I experience a transcendent Holy Presence in the everyday routine of ordinary life- at a supermarket, at lunch, at dinner with my spouse, watching the news, browsing the internet. 

Everything and everyone - all that is "natural" is sacred, and I don't even want God to be supernatural because then God would be too distant and removed from me.

I do not believe in a magical God who rewards and punishes

God abides as Holy Presence- that's all - not some man in the sky making a list and checking it twice. That image of God - along with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny-went out the door for me when I left my childhood behind and began to embrace an adult understanding of God.

I do not believe in helping others in order to get something out of it - to win an eternal reward

Jesus never even talked about going to heaven. Like the Buddha, Jesus taught his disciples how to live here and now - live a life of compassion, treating all beings with equal dignity and as worthy of respect. I don't "practice compassion" to build up my own ego or to win divine "brownie points" to be redeemed for a place in heaven when I die.   I practice compassion because doing so makes me more fully human and brings me deep peace in this life here and now. 

The more I think about it when it comes to conversation about God and religion, there are a lot of invented "straw men" out there. If we would take the time to enter into dialogue and really listen to what another person "actually" believes, we may be surprised how often we might  find ourselves standing on common ground.  



  1. I am with you Padre but you said that Jesus never even talked about going to Heaven. Then what about the many mansions in His Father's house, who are they for and where is this Paradise to which He commended the good thief, etcetera?

  2. great question.

    Actually I think the many mansions concept is not in keeping with what Jesus would have said and was a later theological development in John's evolving theology.. Jesus teaching was always about the kingdom of God here and now.

    Many biblical words of Jesus were later "add ons"

    Great wife actually asked me the same question this morning, and i gave her the same answer..