When did people start changing their religion? By which I mean, when did people begin to have the option of saying, “This religion isn’t working for me, I’m choosing that one.”

a row of small plastic communion cups
a row of small plastic communion cups

Trading up. Trading down. Trading.

We don’t know exactly how religion developed among human beings, but I think it’s safe to say that evidence indicates that at one time most human groups believed a common set of things about the nature of their reality. Perhaps religious professionals were involved, perhaps not. These beliefs were probably at first quite localized.

However, somewhere along the line, changing religions became an option…

Selling at the Marketplace of Ideas
Selling at the Marketplace of Ideas

The Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius proposed a rather large educational enterprise when he wrote, “We exist for the sake of one another. Teach them, then, or accept them as they are” (Bk 8:59).

arms and legs shown underwater, person drowning
arms and legs shown underwater, person drowning
Cristian Palmer on Unsplash

The story goes that the Skeptic philosopher-in-training Pyrrho was out walking one afternoon. His teacher, Anaxarchus, had somehow fallen into a lake, and was shouting, “Help!” He saw Pyrrho passing by and shouted, “Pyrrho, help! I’m drowning!”

Rather than going into a tizzy to save his teacher, Pyrrho ignored the entire scene and kept walking.

Somehow, Anaxarchus survived the ordeal, and, when next he met his student Pyrrho, he praised his student with the words, “Pyrrho, well done! You are a master of my philosophy.”

It is unlikely this actually happened, and indeed the anecdote was probably concocted to expose…

The newest book by Achille Mbembe

My title is a phrase from the work of the Cameroon philosopher Achille Mbembe. When I’m feeling particularly hopeless concerning the chances of achieving a more just and humane society — as has happened with some frequency since 2016 — I have learned to turn to the thought of Dr. Mbembe, one of the essential philosophers in the de-colonial movement. I admire his thought because Mbembe writes realistically and trenchantly about “the gulf separating European moral philosophy from its practical, political and symbolic outcomes.”

And, gee, haven’t we recently seen quite a gulf between the facade of post-Enlightenment liberal morality…

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As so often happens in parent-child relationships, American-style Humanism got some very bad habits from Protestant Christianity and its myopic European focus. As the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz points out:

The Western conception of the person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe; a dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgment, and action organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against a social and natural background is, however incorrigible it may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world’s cultures.

So much for the…

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Almost three thousand years ago the philosopher Heraclitus said,

This universal order, which is the same for all, has not been made by any god or person, but it always has been, is, and will be an ever-living fire, kindling itself by regular measures and going out by regular measures.

Heraclitus doesn’t appear to have been correct in his assumption that time has always existed, but he nailed the part about change — to be is to be becoming.

Heraclitus saw that we cannot step into the same river twice because the river is never static and we ourselves are…

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As I see it, we human beings have a deep wish and a deep need for seeing the world though a structure of value. All of us want and need an answer to that very old philosophical question: “How might I live my life?”

For me, Humanism creates a structure of value: that human beings, living things, and the planet are my responsibility. I am a tribal animal, therefore pro-social behavior is my duty, but also my fulfillment as a human being.

But that’s not much of a story, is it? Which is one of the reasons, I think, that…

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Catch phrases often seem to come out of nowhere and catch on fast, leaving some of us scratching our heads all the while. A recent example is “lived experience.” As in, “Sorry, but that’s not my lived experience.”

For example, someone might say, “Time flies!” to which one response is “That’s not my lived experience of time.” The time flyer might respond, “Everyone knows that time flies!” To which the response goes, “That is your lived experience.”

And so on.

You may be one of those still left scratching your head: Isn’t all experience lived experience?

The answer is: yes…

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The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer justly gets credit for changing the conversation in post-World War II Protestantism. He began as a neo-orthodox wunderkind, but the Nazi rise to power and its consequences, including his own resistance and imprisonment, led him toward seeing a post-Christian Europe.

While in prison, Bonhoeffer wrote letters speculating on what he termed a “Religionless Christianity:”

What keeps gnawing at me is the question, what is Christianity, or who is Christ actually for us today? The age when we could tell people that with words — whether with theological or with pious words — is past, as is…

Photo by Zahra Hosseini on Unsplash

Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota recently landed a $1.5 million grant that will be used to explore ways that church leaders can reshape and deepen congregational life — members connecting to a congregation, to one another, and to the world. As the nation fragments into smaller and smaller — and secular — sub-groups, this connection becomes more urgent.

I find it surprising — and brilliant — that Luther Seminary is spending a million and a half bucks studying how to connect to the rapidly-secularizing US population, at the same time that most liberal Christian congregations are exploring how to…

David Breeden

Poet, Senior Minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a Humanist congregation. Amazon author's page amazon.com/author/davidbreeden

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