Thursday, October 24, 2013


The story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, his only son, is presumably intended to teach the lesson of faith in and obedience to God.  But I feel that there is a very frightening side to this tale.  Moreover, the lessons that it teaches us today may have more to do with the relationship between religion and cultural norms, about how scripture is interpreted--and reinterpreted--in light of advances in cultural norms.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


I just finished reading “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder.  This year marked the 75th anniversary of the play’s debut, and it is still regularly performed, although probably more often by high school theater groups than by professional theater companies.  I know that I have seen the play performed at least two or three times and have read it once or twice before as well.  And each time I have been struck by the play’s power.  It’s a power that does not derive from a suspenseful plot or from the play’s use of language or turns of phrase.  Rather, the play’s power comes from its utter simplicity.  Why am I talking about a classic American play on a blog devoted to skepticism and religion?  Let me try to explain.

[Spoiler Alert: “Our Town” is not really plot driven and I think reading what I have to say would not ruin things for you.  But if you haven’t seen or read the play and are concerned that reading about some of the plot elements would spoil it for you, then I would rather that you skipped what I have to say than to have you upset with me.  Hmmm . . . . ]

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


There is a seemingly unassuming verse in the Bible that creates all kinds of problems for a number of Christian faith traditions.  The text is Luke 23:43.  The setting is the crucifixion scene where Jesus is flanked on either side by so-called thieves, who are also being crucified.  One thief remains unrepentant, while the other has had a change of heart and recognizes Jesus’s righteousness.  He asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus sets up his kingdom.  According to the King James version, Jesus responds, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  The problem is with the placement of the comma in that verse, and a great deal has been written about it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


I attended Battle Creek Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist school located in, yes, Battle Creek, Michigan, from 1st grade through high school.  Earlier this year my BCA classmates and I celebrated our 50th year reunion.  There were only 16 in our graduating class, and 3 of those have since passed away, but happily a majority of us still around made it to the reunion in April.  We had a great time recalling our experiences together.  At the time some of those escapades were frankly embarrassing, but from a distance of 50 years it becomes a lot easier to talk about them and to laugh off that embarrassment.  

One of the comments that I have heard over the years from some of my fellow classmates is how thankful they are for the Christian education that they received at the Academy.  I can’t share that sentiment.  In fact, I still get upset when I think about my educational experience there. 

Friday, October 11, 2013


The idea of personal responsibility has posed major problems for me.  I believe strongly that we do not have free will.  (See my essay on “A Matter of Choice,” posted on 8/25/13.)  If that is the case, how can it be said that individuals nevertheless have personal responsibility for their actions?  If all of our actions are ultimately the result of causes that we do not have control over, then personal responsibility would seem to be just as illusory as free will.  Put another way, how can individuals be held responsible for actions that are, at the most fundamental level, beyond their control?