Abortion common ground?: 6-20/21-09
When courts rule on religion: 6-23-09

Rules for joining: 6-22-09

This is a good historical date on which to ask this question: What should be the membership requirements to join a community of faith?


Why today?

Well, it was on this date in 1750 that the famous colonial preacher Jonathan Edwards (depicted here) was dismissed from his pulpit at the Congregational Church in Northhampton, Mass. He had served there 23 years, but had gotten himself on the wrong side (according to those who dismissed him) of an argument over requirements for admission to full membership in the church. Edwards wanted more restrictions than his opponents did. He lost.

Edwards had succeeded his maternal grandfather as pastor of the church, and his grandfather's policy was to encourage all baptized parishioners to receive Holy Communion. Edwards, however, wanted to give the sacrament only to people who, he felt, met a high standard of proving they really were Christians.

You can look up more the details of this controversy if it interests you, and if you want perhaps the best biography of Edwards, it's Jonathan Edwards: A Life, by George M. Marsden.

But I want to use the occasion of this anniversary to ask about your views of membership. Should one have profound knowledge of most aspects of the religion before being allowed into membership? What evidence should one be required to give that one holds to what the church, synagogue, mosque or temple teaches? Should one be required to complete classes before being allowed into membership? Should there be a higher standard of knowledge and commitment to doctrine for officers of the congregation than just for members? (I think so.)

My view: Just as writing that is produced without effort is usually read without pleasure, so congregational membership without some reasonable requirements having to do with knowledge and commitment to doctrine often does not lead to spiritual growth. What one first must bring to this search is a hunger. Without that nothing happens. But at some point, I think, one must decide whether to make a commitment that is deeper than, say, joining a wine-of-the-month club.

* * *


As regular readers of this blog know, from time to time I offer book columns to let people know of newly published books having to do with religion and ethics. For my most recent such entry, click here. But I can't possibly go through all the books about religion pouring out from publishers. So here's a review of a book I have not yet read but that looks intriguing. It's called Jews, God and Videotape: Religion and Media in America and is about how the media and modern American culture have helped to create a version of Judaism that the author -- and many others -- find troubling. My guess is similar books could be written as critiques of almost any religion Americans follow.

* * *

P.S.: My latest column for The Presbyterian Outlook now is online. To read it click here. To read both it and all my Outlook columns, click here.



From last night -- Just Thinking, it sounds like your interpretation of Paul's verses that seem biased against women, is actually similar to my own -- that it seemed wiser to encourage women to do what was "proper" according to current social norms (I hadn't thought about it being Roman law), rather than encouraging them to stand out and appear rebellious. I see the verses telling slaves not to seek to free themselves in a similar way.

It doesn't mean God wants one human to own another, or that he wants one human to be oppressed by another -- but, rather, that He wants to work a change in hearts first. Once hearts are healed and empowered by God, PEOPLE will automatically work to further human rights. That's OUR work, which God empowers us to do as we grow in Him.

The troubling thing is how these verses have sometimes been used to justify continuing slavery, and also to justify the subjugation of women, and in some denominations are still used this way toward women.

Bill, I'll have to think more about what should be required of members. I guess I'm just moving so far from a view of the church as an organization: I'm kind of seeing it as more of a family, wherein members can disagree and still love and respect one another. I do think that people have to earn trust, though -- especially when you are talking about people who spend time with the children. So I'm not saying everyone who comes should be automatically trusted family -- as in "aunt" or "uncle" to everyone's children. That kind of trust takes time.

But I think you see church as a family, too. And your commitment to your church family definitely outshines mine -- so you probably know more about it than I do.

Just Thinking

Sometimes there is too much emphasis placed on words and education when it comes to the practice of Christianity. Churches are full of people who can rattle off a few phrases, condemn others with a few empty words, but who do put any of it into practice. St. Augustine said, "The words printed here are concepts. You must go through the experiences."

"Thy Kingdom come" is not going to happen by recitations; meaningful actions are required in order for the recitations to have meaning.

Faith is belief plus action to prove that you believe and are willing to follow Christ as Lord. Someone who says that they believe, but does nothing to back it up does not have Christian faith. We're reminded by James that even the demons believe. So that's no big deal!

1 John 3:17-18
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

James 2:14-19
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Dolores Lear

How did the teachings of Jesus, in the 300 years of Jewish Christians with a One God, get changed to a Trinity Religion, with Jesus as the Son of God and the Holy Ghost/Spirit as Three 'Persons' in One Godhead?

Result: Many Christian Trinity God Religions, after 300.

I was baptized as a baby, in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. I took Catechism at 13, and joined the Church.

Train up a child as to the way they should go....Many Religions, just say come forward and join.

So what makes a Christian today? Believing in Jesus a Human as God, and you will be Saved? From what? Eternal Physical Death/Hell?

Or, To be ready For The Last Day Resurrection of Life on Earth, into a new a Physical Body?

Earth's population has increased from 1 Billion to 7 Billion, in the past 100 years.

Is this the Last Days of Life on Earth Resurrection? Are all people that have lived since the Planetary Flood, being Born Alive Today?

What is the critique of Religion that Humans follow today? Continued Generation Birth, Death and Rebirth, up to the Last Days Resurrection of all the Dead into Physical Bodies, to be Judged by God, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Ghost/Spirit?

Does anyone get to Know if they will be Saved at Judgment Day, or is Religion just a Feel Good, to get through this veil of tears?

Today I have been Convinced, that there is High Tech Eternal Human Physical Purebred Life After Birth.

Only in an Equal High Tech Male and Female Clone Society, on Planets and in Spaceships, with No Generation Body Birth Children.

So what is the Religious and Literal Truth, of Eternal Human Life After Birth? Body Birth, Children, Physical Death, and Rebirth?

Or, a One Time High Tech Science Equal Male and Female Clone Birth, and Eternal High Tech Physical Life After Birth, on Planets and in Spaceships?


Personally I would keep the "bar" for church membership fairly low. For Christians a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Figuring out what that means- as an individual and as a particular congregation- is the journey of faith. I think the church should welcome people where ever they are in their faith development. One of the purposes of the church is to help each of us (again both individually and as community) grow in faith- intellectually but also in practice.

Church membership classes are important, mostly because people need to know what sort of church they are commiting to both in terms of basic beliefs and how the congregation and denomination functions.

Church membership is not the end; something one does after most if not all one's doctrines are correct. Church membership should be the begining or continuation of the journey into growing faith as one joins with companions to travel with.

Dolores Lear

"Faith is belief plus action to prove that you believe and are willing to follow Christ as Lord."

What did the disciples do to follow Jesus? The Males to be Celibate, and follow him without returning to bury the dead.

Luke 8:19-21. KJV. "Then came to him his mother and his brethren, and could not come at him for the press. And it was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee. And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the world of God, and do it."

What was the word of God, that Jesus taught? For the Male to be Celibate, and All in their Movement Share Equality of their Resources, like the Essenes?

Was Jesus the Only Begotten Son of God, worked into Jewish Christian Scriptures before or after 300?

Humans Evolved up to High Tech Science, since the Planetary Flood. Humans can be Reproduced as High Tech Purebred Male and Female Clone Helpmeets, not Mates.

I accept this, a High School Graduate. It should not be Impossible for our High Tech Scientists, that make a Human Fetus in the Lab and Clone Animals, to Prove this as Possible and True also.

High Tech Christian Males that follow Jesus, should be Celibate, and have Female Clones, like the Lord God/Us Humans in Genesis, Reproduced Eve for Adam.

The Only Way, to gain the Everlasting Kingdom, of Eternal Physical Life on Earth and in Spaceships, is With High Tech Regeneration.

Human Christians do not Die and go to be with Jesus, who is Alive with the Lord God/Us, in a High Tech Regenerated Purebred Physical Body.

The Literal High Tech Truth: Eternal Life is for Living Male and Female Human Clones, with High Tech Science on Earths and in Spaceships.

Forever and Ever, Amen.


I really like what Nancy said here: "Church membership should be the begining or continuation of the journey into growing faith as one joins with companions to travel with."

From the weekend -- Red Biddy, I forgot to thank you for finding more information on Sam Harris's comments, and sharing your insights. I do agree with you that Harris definitely won the debate with Reza Aslan -- even though I agree more with Aslan, which is kind of weird. I was really inspired by what Aslan shared about religion being the language we use to share about our experiences of transcendance, and how this language can and should change over time. And especially inspiring was his assertion that scientists are part of this ongoing conversation!

I'm not exactly sure where Harris is going with his comment that moderates like Aslan are giving shelter to extremists. I mean, I understand what he is saying -- I just don't understand what he thinks should be DONE about it. Is he saying Aslan, and other Muslim progressives, SHOULDN'T be trying to initiate necessary reforms?

I agree with Harris (and I'm sure Aslan does too) that it's a real problem that 77% of Muslims in Lebanon saw suicide-murders as justified. Of course this doesn't mean all Muslims, or even a majority of Muslims worldwide, think this way. Aslan obviously doesn't. And many who think it, probably wouldn't actually do it themselves.

I mean, now I'm wondering what percentage of conservative Christians see Dr. Tiller's murderer as an unsung hero? However many there are, most of them would never go to the extreme of murdering someone themselves. But still the mere expression of this belief, can be all it takes to push an unbalanced person over the edge.

Lynne - www.kcfreethinkers.org

New movie coming out called Agora http://www.agorathemovie.com/

It's about Hypatia, who tried to protect the books in the Library of Alexandria in Egypt from the Christians who burned it down. She was tortured and burned to death by the early Christians. There is some disagreement about whether she was pagan martyr or an atheist martyr..I think this movie assumes the latter. Back then, I'm not sure if early Christians made a distinction between pagans and atheists.


Lynne, do you know of an historical source backing the movie's claim that Hypatia's murder was connected with her defense of the library?

IGGY - www.KCFreeThinkers.org

Just Thinking wrote>>>>>>>>You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.


Oh, my GAWD!

"Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get" - Forrest Gump

"This is all I have to say about that" - Forrest Gump

Just Thinking... You are a true sweet piece of candy to be eaten and savored :O)

Your Brain is truly the most delish one I have tasted recently through the grace of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Hannibal Lector as his true messiah.

When you read this, remember your lord and savior said that we need to eat his body and drink his blood.

Your brain and your blood are absolutely delish!

Yum, Yum, Yum.

If you were not a Xian, JT, you would pass for a crazy cult leader of some demonic posession.

OH, but you already possessed :o) - demons are all around you.

OK, this makes sense :o)

"This is all I have to say about that" - Forrest Gump

The Secular Parent

I think you're exactly right! People should be expected to at least have read the Bible cover to cover, at least once. They should have an understanding of the controversy surrounding the 'big questions' that religion seeks to ask.

This is why children should not be allowed to join any faith-based organization. Children are not well versed when it comes to Bible, and children don't have an opinion on the 'big questions' that religion seeks to answer.

Children should be raised with a knowledge of what religion is, and the questions religion seeks to answer. As they grow, children should be allowed to synthesize this information with what they know about the world, and then make their decision. That's why it's important to raise children in a secular fashion; The Secular Parent blog is a good place to start.

Just Thinking

"Just Thinking wrote>>>>>>>>You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder."

No, I can't take credit for that, KCFreeThinkers.org. It's part of the Bible. It's part of the Book of James.

You are probably not aware that Christians distinguish between belief and faith. Most people who are not Christians fail to recognize the distinction made by Christians. Faith is belief PLUS actions that prove you believe and trust in the promises of God. Without actions which affirm the belief in the promises of God, then it does not become faith. James illustrates this distinction by pointing out that the demons believe in God; so you can believe all that you want about God, but that is not enough. Faith is required, which requires responsive, appropriate action to collect on God's promises.

One of the first acts of faith that a Christian may encounter is Baptism. Baptism is by itself a meaningless act, but when coupled with belief, Baptism becomes faith in the promise of God to wash someone clean of sin through forgiveness, to entomb them with Christ, and to resurrect them with Christ into a new life through the Spirit. Death, burial, washing and regeneration, resurrection.

It is faith in the promises of God that pleases God. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. When Adam and Eve listened to the serpent instead of believing the promises of God, then they fell out of faith. Abraham's faith in the promises of God was made complete only by actions. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith."

In addition to the physical realm, KCFreeThinkers.org, there is the spiritual realm. When you take away everything that is physical about a person, the spirit remains. There are purely spiritual beings, too. Some are demons.

adam harrison

The Secular Parent who posted above, IF she is in fact the same "Secular Parent" who maintains that blog, claims to be a teacher.

She also blogs freely about her religious students, subtly holding them up for ridicule.

If she is a teacher this is reprehensible...a teacher should not be blogging about a student under any circumstances without the parents being advised and consenting.

Also the suggestion that children not be allowed to join any faith based organization is totalitarian in and of itself...and unconstitutional anyway. Ironically, she does not say they should not be allowed to join atheist organizations...the local Community of Reason even had a Sunday School for kids for a while.

And what does she mean, anyway, that they "should not be allowed"? Who is going to stop them, the GOVERNMENT?

Secular Parent, keep your hands off my kids.

Red Biddy

You said in regard into some Moslems believing suicide bombing is justified, "that many who think it probably wouldn't do it themselves." You are so right about that !
Here's the thing.....the suicide bombers are invariably young impressionable teenagers who have been "persuaded" by older men that killing as many people as possible in the name of jihad will ensure them a direct route to heaven.
I was listening to BBC in Pakistan the other night - interviews with actual Taliban members and other Pakistanis and it was clear this is what the Madrassas are doing, recruiting future suicide bombers. It's so incredibly cynical. These poor kids are just being used. The older Taliban don't offer themselves as sacrifices.
You might remember a period in Palestine that suicide bombers families were offered $25,000 (by PLO I think) to give their children permission to become suicide bombers and blow up as many Israelis as possible.
What is a mystery to me is why a British Moslem who turned out to be a doctor of all things was stopped trying to blow up Glasgow airport. Now that was really weird !

The Secular Parent


why are you attacking me? Why aren't you responding to my post? I'm agreeing with Bill, you on the other hand are simply being divisive and mean spirited...don't you want to actually discuss the post instead of me?

adam harrison

Secular Parent, I did respond to your post and I am calling you out on your totalitarian proposal that "children should not be allowed to join any faith based organization" while you at the same time encourage atheistic education for kids on your blog.

If you see that as an attack...then I ask, why are you always attacking Christians on your blog?

And further, if you are a teacher, you have no business blogging about kids who are your students.

Are you a teacher and is "The Secular Parent" your blog?

YES or NO?

Red Biddy

I certainly agree with Bill that church leaders should have a deep commitment to the doctrine of any particular church - otherwise what's the point in joining except for a degree of social intercourse with like minded people.
Perhaps as an atheist I should butt out of that one but Bill's question did put me in mind of the way things were with American Atheist group when Madeleine Murray O'Hare was in charge. She was was such a purist - if any member even waffled a little about whether there might be "something out there" they would be immediately excommunicated !
I've found other atheists like that also. Deism of any kind is out ! Even Thomas Paine's famous statement "I believe in one God and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life" is considered not worthy of consideration although he wrote a great critique of the Bible in The Age of Reason.
Even the Free Inquiry people are purists. I tried to get Susan B Anthony included in their recent New Encyclopedia of Unbelief but they wouldn't have it, even though she was an agnostic like her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Reason - SBA's connection and use of the Christian Prohibition movement to try and get universal suffrage passed.
In a way they were right because the Prohibition movement did slow up the cause of universal suffrage in the US, (this is well known) Men did not want to be deprived of their "whusky" and can't say I blame them ! The joke was that Prohibition and Universal Suffrage were passed in the same year 1920 so the Christian women won that round !

The Secular Parent

Totalitarian is a strong word adamh. It means that
"of or pertaining to a centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life."

In no way do I want a centralized government to take over your children's life! They can barely run the country :-)

The Secular Parent is not a blog that advertises that type of parenting. All I am saying (are you listening), all I am saying is how can you expect young children (2, 6, 9) to understand the complexities of faith?

Sure you can give them your point of view--but, if you don't say that it's your point of view, and that there are many points of view, and that we cannot possibly know the truth until we die, we are closing the minds of young ones.

Why does Bush say the Iraq war is a "Crusade for Christ?" Why does the Taliban say it is a "Jihad for Islam?" Because they count on you and me to fight.

People who use religion to control and scare people count on children becoming the new 'soldiers' of the faith. They count on us raising our children with closed perspectives, stereotypes, and false truths about 'other people.'

How can we stop this? We can educate our children about the faiths of the world--we can teach them to be religiously literate without closing their mind to be the various spectrums of thinking about what happens after we die.

This is me trying to control the lives of children?

Just Thinking

The Secular Parent,

You wrote, "All I am saying (are you listening), all I am saying is how can you expect young children (2, 6, 9) to understand the complexities of faith?"

And how can young children understand the complexities of numbers? They cannot. We teach young children rules so that, as their understanding grows, they'll have something to understand! What's to understand without Truth to build upon? A rule is a truth, and truth manifests itself in rules, too.

Surely you support teaching rules, unless you deny that reading, writing and arithmetic are valid subjects. And children learn a great deal of complexity through mastering rules. Discipline is a hallmark of any successful person.

Children learn much about right and wrong through rules, too. In fact, I would argue that it's good to start with such rules. Absolute morality should be taught by parents, too, especially because it cannot be taught in the classroom. Through rules, children can learn about the character of God and can learn faith through knowing who God is.

Don't you agree that every child should be taught not to steal, not to hit, not to pick on others, not to lie? How about teaching children to respect their parents and those in authority? These are truths that should be taught, but there's no room for such truth in your "enlightened" world: "Sure you can give them your point of view--but, if you don't say that it's your point of view, and that there are many points of view, and that we cannot possibly know the truth until we die, we are closing the minds of young ones." I disagree with you. I know the Truth about many matters, whether or not you'll accept it as Truth. Some truths I hold to be self-evident, too!

Dolores Lear

"In addition to the physical realm, KCFreeThinkers.org, there is the spiritual realm. When you take away everything that is physical about a person, the spirit remains. There are purely spiritual beings, too. Some are demons."

Where did Spirits come from? Man-Made Religion, about Supernatural Events, by Natural Humans. sometimes called 'caught up in the Spirit'? Jesus was taken up by the Spirit, into the Wilderness from his Baptism.

Humans Reproduce a Human Fetus, and put it back in the female. God and Angels, did this to females in the Christian Bible, Old and New Testament; the Holy Spirit Incarnated Mary with Jesus.

Humans Clone animals that is not Natural Birth. The Lord God in Genesis Cloned Eve from Adam's Rib, by Supernatural Reproduction.

The Supernatural Acts of the Gods and Angels that flew in chariots up in the air, was also called 'in the Spirit'. Today Humans fly in airplanes and shuttles.

The Bible needs to be translated, but not by Humans without High Tech Science.

The Supernatural and Spiritual Events in the Christian Bible, All Scripture and Myth, can be understood as High Tech Peace Humans that Colonized Earth and Reproduced Male and Female Clone Caretaker Humans.

And, the Killer Humans of the Noah/Atlantis Society that Evolved up to High Tech like we have today, and died in their Planetary Flood.

There are many Mysteries that can be solved by Humans today, who do live Supernaturally, like the Gods in our Human Image.

Jesus is Called a God, is a Human, still Alive went with the Peace Lord God Humans in Genesis, in a High Tech Spaceship.

So instead of the Arguments that cannot explain God and the Spirit, by Natural means, High Tech Humans can explain some of Ways the Gods that moved in Mysterious Ways their Wonders to Perform.


Secular Parent -- I agree with much of what you are saying. But my concern is where you said children shouldn't be allowed to join a church. I think that if a child expresses a good understanding of church teachings, and wants to be baptised and become a memeber, it is the parent's place to help her pursue the things she wants.

That said, I don't believe in forcing religious instruction on children (or any instruction for that matter). And it's an unusual child who will be interested, at a very young age, in voluntarily spending hours and hours reading and studying the Bible and immersing herself church teachings.

I share my faith with my children, but I also believe in presenting myself as just another human, as well as presenting leaders as only human, too. We can all learn a lot from one another, and we can learn a lot from the kids, too. No one human has the final word on anything.

So ... with non-coercive education, it's probably unusual for a very young child to be so drawn to reading and studying the Bible, that she's ready at a very young age to pursue church membership. But if one of my children were wanting to do this, then I'd be available to help her with it.

Red Biddy, I agree with you that it's mainly young people who are getting deceived into becoming suicide bombers. And this is where beliefs can become very dangerous. Also, what you said about the British doctor -- this is something Harris referred to, too -- that these attacks can't be dismissed as being more economic than religious, because many of the people involved ARE FROM THE UPPER SOCIO-ECONOMIC STRATA. It does seem more religious than anything, when people with all the advantages of wealth and education, are so willing to throw it all away to be suicide bombers.

Will Graham

To answer your last question, Be Asia a/k/a "Secular Parent", YES.
YOU specifically state that children should NOT BE ALLOWED to join any faith based organization.
YOU are thus saying that children should not be allowed to join a church, which is exactly the position the old Officailly Atheistic States of the Soviet Union take.

YOU further state that children should be raised in a secular fashion...as atheists...and that YOUR BLOG is a good place to start; where, it has been pointed out, you have ridiculed your relgious students.
YOU then make futher bigoted statements about faith...implying that they are all trying to scare and control chilren when, of course, YOU are trying to control children for your own "secular" agenda. Yes, you view is TOTALITARIAN and I will bet money you are A FRIEND OF IGGY'S! LOL!

The Secular Parent

Just thinking,

Your argument, unfortunately, is a non-sequitur. We are not talking about basic rules or basic facts. We are discussing how children interact with faith. Universal truths, basic facts (that science has helped us to discover)aren't a part of our discussion.

If you could simply address whether or not you believe its important to educate our children in terms of religion, whether or not we should create religiously literate young people, as opposed to close-minded children is the issue: what say you?

Will Graham

Iggy says, "Just thinking, you are a true sweet piece of candy to be eaten and savored." Sound like a threat to me.

Will Graham

Here is an example Secular Parent blogging about one of her own students.
I did some checking, a teacher has NO BUSINESS BLOGGING ABOUT A STUDENT ON A PERSONAL BLOG...especially one promoting her particular philosophy.

The Secular Parent


I think it's great that you encourage people to visit my site! There is plenty of things there that people may agree or disagree with, but as long as they are respectful, I have no problem!

I hope that you have done some checking, if you had, you'd know that Jonathan isn't even a real kid! There's no law against making up people that aren't real....

I don't think children should be raised as Atheists...mine aren't! Children are freethinkers, they aren't wedded to any philosophy until they study it for themselves, doesn' that make sense? We don't need a world of only Atheists anymore than we need a world of only theists...we need a world of thoughtful people.

Susan, your comment is spot on...and I misspoke when I said that children should NEVER be allowed into a church...extremes tend to misrepresent truth.

I also agree with you when you said that your average child isn't particularly interested in faith, with some outliers of course.

My only point is that children should not be coerced into faith, they should be allowed to explore where their hearts take them...

The blog is filled with great posts, please visit it!

Thanks for the traffic Will!!

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