Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Oy Vey, Not Again

A guy named Perry Marshall wants to get you to take his on-line course called "The Seven Great Lies Of Organized Religion.
These are the burning questions Marshall will address in his course:
(1) Some religious leaders seem to tell us that we're not smart enough or good enough to discover God on our own. Who says?
(2) If God is good and perfect, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?
(3) How can anyone rely on the Bible for answers, if it's just a loose translation of ancient myths anyway?
(4) How can we trust a religion that has advocated slavery and the subjugation of women throughout history?

Marshall, in all apparent sincerity, writes:
"These are serious questions-hot potatoes that nobody wants to touch."

Um, hon? Mr. Marshall? A brief glance through, like thousands of articles and sermons from the past 150 years or so from probably about sixteen or seventeen dozen religious traditions would indicate that your questions are at the absolutely forefront of religious thought in America. Every single one of those hot potatoes done been PASSED. And passed. And passed.

Again, as in my "spiritual but not religious" entry of a week or so ago: Who are these people? What kind of bubble do they live in that they somehow don't know that an enormous portion of the "organized religious" population concerns itself with these questions? So, just off the top of my pointy head... a reading list for our Mr. Perry Marshall:

Ralph Waldo Emerson or Immanuel Swedenborg, Meister Eckhart, Matthew Fox (on the direct, unmediated experience of God); William Ellery Channing or Marcus Borg or John Shelby Spong or John Dominic Crossan (on how to read the Bible reverently and critically); Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza or Elizabeth Johnson or Rosemary Radford Ruether or Carol Christ or Sarah Coakley or Julian of Norwich (on the question of being a feminist and a Christian or a Jew); Martin Luther King, Jr., Howard Thurman, Walter Wink (on why we can "trust" Christian tradition despite the Bible's teachings on slavery);
Gottfried Leibniz, C.S. Lewis, Harold Kushner, Elie Wiesel, Gersonides (on theodicy, the question of suffering, evil and God).

I apologize to Mr. Marshall and to anyone else on the planet who has been participating in a religious community on any level and who has been left with the impression that religious people do not care about things like evil, suffering, misogyny, oppression, access to the Divine, and the myriad other problems inherited from ancient faith traditions.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott Wells here -- I dun't believe it. I was just reading that page with the course today. How yesterday's news it is.

But did have to admire the combined use of a self-study course with blog ads. (I assume you found it as an ad link from a certain well-regarded blog, no?)

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Yes, I saw it on Philocrites! Good to have Mr. Scott "Stufflebean" Wells posting on here. You can read his own very fine blog at

Blogger Chalicechick said...

Wait a second--If this guy was presenting an on-line course about "the miracle of how Jesus Christ can make your life fulfilling" and "how living a spiritual life can make you a happier person," I don't think you kids would blink an eye, even if he described those questions as burning.

So why is it that an athiest who seems to be pretty clearly marketing himself to the people to whom these ideas would be new have to answer to snarkiness from religious professionals?

If you're using UUs as your standard for "everybody" then, yes, those questions are old hat.

But we live in a world where my fairly sophisticated father saw "Dogma" and found it's general theme of "It's not what your specific belief is, it's that you believe in something and lead a good and faithful life" somewhat new.

There are few new ideas to humanity. But I bet those ideas are new to some people.


Blogger PeaceBang said...

Chalice Chick, what makes you assume this guy is an atheist? I don't. I assume he's one of those wounded seekers who's too angry and "enlightened" to join one of the millions of communities of seekers, and so he's doing his seeking all by himself, and not doing a very satisfactory job of it. How enlightened can he be if he hasn't found the treasure trove of people and volumes and history out there that grapple with all the questions he claims central to his "expose" of religious tradition? NOT VERY.
I'm slamming him not for his naivete, but for his arrogance. Once again -- and I don't know how many times I have to say this -- I'm not blasting a THEOLOGICAL POSITION (I don't know what this guy's theology is and it doesn't really interest me),but claims of uniqueness. I actually, deeply believe that liberal religious progress is connected human progress, and that jokers like this impede that progress. They keep liberal religious seekers trapped in a snarly, adolescent place by perpetuating the huge lie that none of the faithful are willing to critique the problems inherent in monotheistic faith traditions. There's a big difference between the "Save Your Life Through Jayzus Christ" teacher and this teacher. The Christian claim, which locates itself within a tradition, isn't a fitting comparison. I can only look at those courses with a sense of curiosity, and move on. But this guy, by asking the burning questions of all liberal faith traditions and then ignorantly concluding that he's the only one asking them, essentially locates himself within MY tradition. And for that, he earns the big smack-down. And to clarify, I am not much of a sectarian. I don't focus on my denominational affiliation so much as consider myself a "liberal religionist" in general.
Finally, I have to say that the kind of critique that starts, "If So-And-So had done Such-And-Such, you would have done This-And-Such (or not done it)..." My respose to that brand of assumptions is always going to be, "Really? Stick around. You have no idea how wrong you probably are."

Blogger Chalicechick said...

I don't think he assumes he's unique, he assumes that to the people reading this he will be unique, which is quite possibly the case.

To take the Christian comparison again, I don't think that a Christian with an online course would bother to cite a bunch of sources either, especially not in his sales pitch.

Again, he doesn't seem to be pitching himself to a theologically sophisticated audience. To these people, the ideas are new.

who wouldn't take this guy's course either, but just saying...

Blogger Chalicechick said...

I guess part of the reason I feel moved to defend the guy is that I view adolescence as crucial to growing up.

Much like we eventually grow to view our parents with love but realistically after at least a bit of hating them as fifteen-year-olds, we do grow eventually to see our old faiths with perspective, but we have to reject them first.

(And we all think we're the only ones who've ever gone through adolesence.)

A guy who is helping people start this process doesn't seem so awful to me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Philocrites here: My ads work! They inspire! They bring revenue! Hoorah!

I would like to say something in defense of Mr Marshall (even without the benefit of having visited his site): No matter how much I believe in the value of organized religion and the significance of the church, churches have no *useful* right complaining that other people disregard them. People are shopping for meaning, and churches have to learn from these entrepreneurial DIY gurus how to let people know that congregational life and being part of a tradition are, well, good for you. The church has to compete.

So, although on a substantive level I'd agree with PeaceBang that there is a long if often neglected tradition of serious engagement with the Big Issues within organized religions, on a pragmatic level I'd say that an effective UU church will probably have to compete with people just like this guy for an audience that is looking for meaning in unusual corners of the culture. Because, frankly, most people's experience with organized religion is some form of conventional wisdom and status quoism. If they get dissatisfied and start looking elsewhere, they want to know how it's different.

When it comes to drawing in a new audience, there are two approaches that seem to work pretty well: Identify your enemy and tilt your lance at it dramatically (the "Proud to Be Heretics" approach) or speak compellingly about the fundamental human issues that people are yearning to engage (the "Honest Questions" approach). I've seen the first approach work very well for UUs, although I don't admire it. The second approach is harder, but the people who do it well are the people I respect the most.

Blogger fausto said...

I agree with Peacebang that there are many denominations, churches, and synagogues where such issues as being able to hear "the direct voice of the Holy Spirit" (to quote First Church in Boston's Anne Hutchinson) or exercise "the right of private judgment" (to quote Arlington Street's Ezra Stiles Gannett), or discussing theodicy, or evaluating competing theories of Scriptural authority, or acknowledging the discrepancies between the historic Church and either its own moral teachings or modern moral paradigms, are regularly and intelligently addressed in a spirit of acceptance and open inquiry. I also agree with Peacebang that freethinkers (even many UU ones) need to be better aware that, as John Winthrop cautioned Anne Hutchinson, the unguided solitary path is especially prone to error. Not everybody is as truly connected to the Over-Soul as Emerson was, though many suppose themselves to be.

However, I disagree to some extent with Peacebang's sweeping criticism, both here and on the "Spiritual but not Religious" thread, of folks who don't go to church to pursue such concerns. For example, the "spiritual but not religious" wedding guest against whom PB rails may not realize that such honesty and support is in fact available in UU or other churches. We don't exactly do a great job of proselytizing, at either the personal or institutional level. To reject such inquirers may be to lose potential converts.

Moreover, there are indeed large swathes of the country where it can be difficult to find any local church that encourages such openness and honesty -- even (regrettably) within our own UU denomination. Mr. or Ms. "SBNR" simply may not be familiar with what we offer, or may even have visited one of our more intolerant or spiritually dissolute congregations and found it, too, wanting. ("Spirit of Life" knows, we have such congregations.) Likewise, Perry Marshall's own personal experience may indeed have given him the sincere impression that there is no place in any organized religion (at least none he has seen) where such questions are honestly embraced.

Wherever such inquiry is discouraged, or even perceived to be discouraged, a seeker may find more integrity in a lonesome personal search than in a misleading or unfulfilling collaborative one.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Yes,go ye and proselytize! Evangelize! And come back to Peacebang for more sweeping generalizations!

Seriously, though. As I was thinking about some of the points you all have made, it occurred to me that most UU youth of my acquaintance would not hesitate to label ChaliceChick's hypothetical blog ad for a course on the Healing Power of the Bible as sheer nonsense.... while regarding Mr. Marshall's claims with an affirmative nod of "mmmhmm, I hear you, pal!" Why? Because they don't go to church (where they're often not welcomed), they don't get acquainted with the tradition of inquiry and criticism to which they are heir, and they come into *and leave* our movement without knowing that heritage,holding forever to the notion of themselves as lone rebels, and to the concept of churches as preservers of the status quo. It hurts them. It hurts the movement, immeasurably.
Sorry to belabor the Loss of Youth Thing again (as we dragged on and on about on Philocrites some time ago, but it weighs on me mind lately.
Of COURSE there are ways other than church life to engage in a free and disciplined and responsible search for truth and meaning and Philocrites is right: if our congregations want to compete, we have to do it better or best.

Blogger fausto said...

they don't get acquainted with the tradition of inquiry and criticism to which they are heir, and they come into ... our movement without knowing that heritage, holding forever to the notion of themselves as lone rebels.... It hurts them. It hurts the movement, immeasurably.Sadly, the exact same thing can be said about many of their parents, in my experience. The distinction beween self-culture and self-seeking has been allowed to erode for too long. It's the dark side of our heritage of "the right of private judgment" and Emersonian individualism.

Blogger Chalicechick said...

(((they come into *and leave* our movement without knowing that heritage,holding forever to the notion of themselves as lone rebels, and to the concept of churches as preservers of the status quo.)))

Of course, at the same time, they're leaving the scout troop they've been in since they were five, quitting the flute they spent years learning to play, forgetting their plans to be a doctor, starting a punk band, and sitting out on the roof smoking when they're supposed to be in bed.

OF course we all know they will get over everything else that goes with youth.

What makes you think they won't outgrow their attitude about organized religion?

For me, attending church was part of a carefully-constructed facade that hid from my parents that I was a self-destructive nincompoop. I remember the phase. Took four years of not being a presbyterian to get over it.

Once I was, I came right back.


Blogger Chalicechick said...

errr... I came back to organized religion.

I'm probably never going back to being a Presbyterian.

who is probably still a self-destructive nincompoop. She likes to think she hides it well, but fausto may be on to her.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, this seems just like the good old days of the UU Debate Board. I guess it's like a travelling crap game nowadays. (Or like a rave for those of you too young to remember such things.)

Blogger Chalicechick said...

I know that was basically a compliment, but it sure doesn't sound like one.


Blogger Phil said...

For a genuinely liberal approach to the "Great Lies" curriculum, check out
They've got quite a list of contributors, and their tag line is, "Wisdom is asking the questions for which there are no answers"
-- Harrell Beck

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, this seems just like the good old days of the UU Debate Board.

"Dixitinsipiens" from said board here. Have been lurking.

Frankly, I think the levels of knowledge, discussion, sincerity, respect, and wit are all noticeably higher in the emerging UU blogosphere than they have been at beliefnet.

the UU blogosphere: "It's the youngest, established, permanent, floating crap game on the Web!"

Blogger Still Learning said...

I know this is an old thread but I discovered it when researching the background to the advertisement for "Seven Great Lies of Organized Religion".

This is the Internet. Nothing is as it seems. I always Google the author before reaching a conclusion. It turns out that Perry Marshall of the 7 lies is the same one who is a big wheel in Guerilla Marketing.
which takes you to

So maybe this whole course is a money making scheme. As anonymous has already said "Philocrites here: My ads work! They inspire! They bring revenue! Hoorah!"


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