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Is This Author a Christian?

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Not that I can ever really know, but since SDG in an earlier thread established that Muslims pray to -- ahem -- "the same God" Christians do, I wonder what that sort of thinking entails for this woman's religious convictions.

Well, I shouldn't pick on SDG. He's a good guy, very thoughtful (more so than I!), so let me ask the Episcopalians among us: What would you do with this woman? Why do I meet and hear of so many Episcopalians with strange ideas that other denominations would consider way outside the bounds of orthodoxy? Is it because the Episcopalian church technically can't split (I think), so people who don't believe in Jesus' divinity are forced, in a way, to intermingle with those who do? Does the church, in general, have a disciplinary system in place for those who hold to heretical beliefs? If so, is the system ever enforced? From recent press accounts of the church, you'd think that the battle over homosexuality in the pulpit and in the pews is the main dividing line in the Episcopal church, as well as other mainline denominations. But what this woman advocates is so much more a central point of doctrine that I wonder why such statements don't cause an uproar at the local level of her diocese, or whatever it's called in the Episcopal church. Thoughts? If the administrators want to move this discussion to "Theology," I'm fine with that, but I thought the discussion should start here, given the author connection.

From The Wall Street Journal:

For a Clue, Look Up

By TOM NOLAN

Detective fiction shares many concerns with religion: the contest between good and evil, the struggle of right with wrong. Back in the 1920s and '30s, the mystery genre included several noted practitioners also well-known for writing on spiritual matters: G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Father Ronald A. Knox. But in our secular age, when it's even money if God will be capitalized (let alone mentioned) in a crime novel, mystery writers who admit to an interest in things of the spirit seem as rare, as Ross Macdonald once wrote, as the cardinal virtues in Hollywood.

Yet we now have "Seeking Enlightenment . . . Hat by Hat" (Putnam), a charming and thought-provoking spiritual memoir by Nevada Barr, the award-winning author of the mystery series featuring National Park Service ranger Anna Pigeon. This trim book -- subtitled "A Skeptic's Path to Religion" -- may be even more of a surprise to readers familiar with the adventures of Ms. Barr's heroine: Anna is an avowed atheist.

"But I don't think there's any such thing as a true atheist," says Ms. Barr from her home in Mississippi. "It's more that anything you're told doesn't make sense, so you just sort of bumble along assuming there's no cohesive higher power . . . even if there's one that occasionally will throw an earthquake your way."

The 51-year-old author, born and raised in rural Nevada by non-church-going parents, says that she herself was an atheist until her early 40s, when a sort of emotional earthquake caused her to seek refuge one snowy winter's eve in an Episcopal church in Durango, Colo.

"It was the winter I think of 1994," recalls Ms. Barr, who published her first Anna Pigeon book in 1993. "I'd moved back to Durango to try to patch things up with my ex-husband, and things were not going well. I was out wandering around in the snow before Christmas, feeling sorry for myself, and saw this big window all lit up. I was just going to knock on the doors and have them be closed and pathetically trudge away -- yeah, I was wallowing -- and the doors were open. And there were some women having a little ceremony. I turned to immediately run -- and they caught me."

She kept returning each week for companionship and distraction, Ms. Barr says, despite her lack of a belief in God. "Then slowly I began to understand the value of coming together in community."

Eventually she came to embrace the Christian-based beliefs that inform the 43 brief, often humorous, to-the-point pieces in "Seeking Enlightenment," one of which states: "If . . . we accept the teachings of Jesus to be right and true, then it behooves us to . . . bear the weight of knowing [that] we are the hands of God that lift others from misery. . . . This is indeed a cross to bear. It moves us from prayer to action, forces us to cease putting the evils of the world on the altar for the divine to fix and to get up off our knees and fix it ourselves."

Although she calls herself a Christian now, Ms. Barr acknowledges that she might not be so considered by other Christians, since she sees Jesus (like Buddha and others) as a prophet to be emulated rather than as the one true son of God. But she says her fellow Episcopalians in Mississippi are comfortable with her position. "They're very open-minded about people thinking about and questioning things. I talked to my priest, and he said, 'If you come to church and you pray, you're a Christian. Period.'"

Those in the secular camp may be less tolerant, supposes Ms. Barr, once scolded by a reader for wearing a cross in her author photo for a novel about the atheist Anna Pigeon. "I was very concerned my publisher do a good job of not making ['Seeking Enlightenment'] look like anything but what it is," she says, "'cause I didn't want anybody to get tricked."

And the author -- married now for eight years to her second husband, a retired park ranger -- says she has no intention of forcing her series heroine toward some concept of monotheism akin to her own. "She just doesn't seem to be leaning that way. . . . And if you break your own character rules, it's bad art."

But that doesn't mean that Nevada Barr is letting Anna Pigeon off the hook: "I have been bringing religious people across her path, just to see what happens. . . . I think I will enjoy tormenting her with Christians."

Mr. Nolan is the author of "Ross Macdonald: A Biography" (1999).

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With regards to the episcopalian position, it seems to be a broader Anglican (yes I capitalize that) issue, the whole (dumb) idea of "unity before truth." While I can appreciate Anglicanism's historic big-tent approach to flexibility on non-essential doctrines, I--and many others--have a real concern about flexibility on the essentials.
Disciples also have a big tent approach. We (like several other groups) have been fond of quoting 17th century Lutheran Rupertus Meldenius: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity. The issue then becomes what is essential or non-essential. DOC has always had a very limited view of essentials. The ancient creeds and the Fundamentals of Fundamentalism are all definitions of essentials, but DOC do not make use of such definitions as ways of distinguishing who can or can't be part of us.

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Darrel Manson wrote:

: Disciples also have a big tent approach. We (like several other groups)

: have been fond of quoting 17th century Lutheran Rupertus Meldenius: In

: essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity. The

: issue then becomes what is essential or non-essential.

Indeed. One of the conservative groups that is deeply entwined with the conservative churches that are threatening to split off from the Anglican diocese here over same-sex unions calls itself Anglican Essentials, and they quote this saying at the top of their web page. But there are plenty of otherwise conservative people who do not believe the sexuality thing is an "essential" -- it never comes up in the creeds or even in more recent documents like the Lausanne Covenant, etc.

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Before this turns into a debate about homosexuality -- and how can it not, since that's one of Peter's pet issues? -- I'd like to attempt to get back to the main point of the article, which is the author's denial of Christ's divinity:

"Although she calls herself a Christian now, Ms. Barr acknowledges that she might not be so considered by other Christians, since she sees Jesus (like Buddha and others) as a prophet to be emulated rather than as the one true son of God. But she says her fellow Episcopalians in Mississippi are comfortable with her position. 'They're very open-minded about people thinking about and questioning things. I talked to my priest, and he said, "If you come to church and you pray, you're a Christian. Period."'"

I'm wondering how far such "open-mindedness" goes in the Episcopal Church, and whether she's praying to the same God as Muslims ... umm, I mean, Christians do. :roll: It's one thing for fellow Christians to encourage seekers, but her characterization of the priest's words troubles me. I'm wondering if it bothers other Episcopalians/Anglicans on this board. That's all.

Thanks for the link, Alan, but the group seems more concerned with women's ordination than it does with something as fundamental as whether Christ is a prophet or something, or Someone, more, which is where I'd like to focus the discussion for now.

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AlanW wrote:

: "Thou shalt not murder" is also not in any of the creeds for that matter,

: but I doubt anyone is proposing removing it as a no-no.

Well, "murder" is, by definition, a "wrong" form of "killing", so there is no way that it could NOT be a no-no. The question becomes, then, which forms of killing are wrong and which are not? If the Bible is our guide, then one form of killing known as genocide can apparently be both bad (when performed against the Jews, as in Esther) or good (when performed by the Jews against the Canaanites, as in the Deuteronomic history), depending on the context. Merriam-Webster defines "murder" as "the crime of unlawfully killing a person", but those who believe ALL forms of violence are wrong will say that even LAWFUL forms of killing people, such as capital punishment and war, are "murder" (e.g. the scene in Love and Death where Woody Allen refers to combat as "abstract murder"). So nobody could possibly disagree that "murder" is a bad thing -- the "badness" of murder is an inherent part of the definition of the word! We might fervently disagree over whether certain acts of violence are lawful or not, or are "murderous" or not, though.

: A pro-homosexuality position undermines the authority of scripture and

: church tradition (the value of the latter being subordinate to the first,

: depending on parish/congregation).

So do those parts of the scripture which undermine the authority of earlier parts of scripture and tradition, like the bits about non-kosher food. Paul himself, of course, talked about following the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law, so what may be undermined is not so much the authority of scripture per se but the model of authority that you bring to scripture. Certainly nobody is denying that church tradition as we have known it up until now would be undermined by a pro-homosexuality position -- the question is whether this aspect of the tradition is "essential", and thus needs to be enforced, or is "non-essential", and thus does not need to be enforced.

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Christian wrote:

: Before this turns into a debate about homosexuality -- and how can it

: not, since that's one of Peter's pet issues? . . .

Ouch. (More than genocide?)

: . . . I'd like to attempt to get back to the main point of the article, which

: is the author's denial of Christ's divinity:

You're right, sorry if this thread seems on the verge of being hijacked. Homosexuality is just one of those issues that exposes the faultline between people who have different ways of drawing the line between "essential" and "non-essential" matters, but there are others, and I did not mean for this to become about homosexuality per se. It is that debate over how to draw the line between "essential" and "non-essential" that should be the key thing here.

: I'm wondering how far such "open-mindedness" goes in the Episcopal Church . . .

Given that Bishop John Shelby Spong has written books on the need for a "non-theistic" form of Christianity, I would suspect pretty far. Though of course there are many Episcopalians of a more traditional nature, too.

: It's one thing for fellow Christians to encourage seekers, but her

: characterization of the priest's words troubles me.

Same here.

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Before this turns into a debate about homosexuality -- and how can it not, since that's one of Peter's pet issues? -- I'd like to attempt to get back to the main point of the article, which is the author's denial of Christ's divinity:

The March 22, 2002, issue of Commonweal focused on Christology (mostly from a Roman Catholic view since Commonweal is a Catholic periodical (certainly a bit left of center for Catholic, but Catholic all the same). "WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?" by Robert A. Krieg (available online if you can access infotrac through your library system) builds his article around Christology from above and from below (i.e., focusing on the divinity or the humanity.) It's a good read.

Within my Disciples tradition, what little creed we have (that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God) doesn't spell out what that divinity means. That allows a lot of room, including opinions much like Barr's.

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AlanW wrote:

: Pick another commandment. I think you know my comment was not

: about murder but about moral imperatives not being credal in nature.

Well, that, too, takes us into one of those thorny problems of definition. Christians often divide the Old Testament laws into "ritual purity" laws, which we non-Jews are not obliged to keep, and "moral" laws, which everyone is obliged to keep -- so if we're talking homosexuality, or whatever, we have to decide which side of that line the relevant laws may fall. And in the case of homosexuality, many people would say that those laws are "ritual purity" laws, not "moral" laws.

So, just as we cannot assume that everyone agrees on what is an "essential" and what is a "non-essential", we also cannot assume that everyone agrees on what is a "ritual purity" commandment or a "moral" commandment.

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Well, that, too, takes us into one of those thorny problems of definition. Christians often divide the Old Testament laws into "ritual purity" laws, which we non-Jews are not obliged to keep, and "moral" laws, which everyone is obliged to keep -- so if we're talking homosexuality, or whatever, we have to decide which side of that line the relevant laws may fall. And in the case of homosexuality, many people would say that those laws are "ritual purity" laws, not "moral" laws.

So, just as we cannot assume that everyone agrees on what is an "essential" and what is a "non-essential", we also cannot assume that everyone agrees on what is a "ritual purity" commandment or a "moral" commandment.

Let's see, what would Jews of Jesus' day count as essentials? (Of course, there was a wide range of thought, but in general.) I expect keeping Sabbath would have been an essential, and circumcision for men. Those would likely be true for most groups. Some would have spoken of racial purity. Some would have spoken of temple sacrifice. Some would have looked at holiness. Sabbath laws Jesus and his disciples broke from. Circumcision was dropped very early by the church. Even when the church gave instruction about Gentile converts (tell them to abstain from strangled meat - a kosher thing) it seems to have been pretty much ignored, although the Jerusalem church seemed to see this as an essential.

I suspect "essential" is what I need to believe is right. Non-essentials are thing I'm less sure about.

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Darrel Manson wrote:

: Let's see, what would Jews of Jesus' day count as essentials? (Of course,

: there was a wide range of thought, but in general.) I expect keeping

: Sabbath would have been an essential, and circumcision for men.

Oh, probably. In fact, A.N. Wilson, in his biography of Paul, cites a rabbi or two who believed that the failure of diaspora Jews to circumcise their children was preventing the coming of the messiah -- it was taken THAT seriously. So Paul's rather harsh words AGAINST circumcision are quite interesting, in that context.

: Even when the church gave instruction about Gentile converts (tell them

: to abstain from strangled meat - a kosher thing) it seems to have been

: pretty much ignored, although the Jerusalem church seemed to see this

: as an essential.

Yes, as has been discussed here before, it has been suggested that the men bearing the letter from James in Acts 15 might be the very same men who caused Paul so much trouble in Galatians 2. One film that explores that possibility is the 1981 TV-movie Peter and Paul starring Robert Foxworth and Anthony Hopkins (with John Rhys-Davies as Silas).

: I suspect "essential" is what I need to believe is right. Non-essentials are

: thing I'm less sure about.

I dunno, that sounds a mite too subjective, to me.

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