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Change and diversity in beliefs within religions

Part 1:
Quotations. Diversity of beliefs within one religion.

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Quotations dealing religious change, mistakes, errors, diversity, disagreements, etc:

  • "We are in a transition between a new consciousness and old definitions. The new consciousness will win but as with every human struggle to emerge from ignorance, there will be casualties long after the issue is decided." Retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong speaking about same-sex marriage. 1 However, he might have been speaking in the 1960s about interracial marriage, or in the 1920s about universal suffrage, or in the 1860s about human slavery, all three of which have been resolved.

  • "The hope of civilization itself hangs on the defeat of Negro suffrage." A statement by a prominent 19th-century southern Presbyterian pastor, cited by Rev. Jack Rogers, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

  • "Religion is a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of reality, such as we find nowhere else but in a state of blissful hallucinatory confusion. Religion's eleventh commandment is "Thou shalt not question." Sigmond Freud in "The Future of an Illusion."

  • "When people try to use religion to address the natural world, science pushes back on it, and religion has to accommodate the results. Beliefs can be permanent, but beliefs can also be flexible. Personally, if I find out my belief is wrong, I change my mind. I think that's a good way to live." Lisa Randall, Discover magazine, 2006-JUL.

  • "You show me one step forward in the name of religion and I'll show you a hundred retrogressions. Remember, they were men of God who destroyed the educational treasures at Alexandria, who perpetrated the Inquisition in Spain, who burned the witches at Salem. Over 25,000 organized religions flourish on this planet, but the followers of each think all the others are miserably misguided and probably evil as well." Frank Sinatra, Playboy magazine, 1962-FEB.

  • "... when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome—others will fill the vacuum. And those who do are likely to be those with the most insular views of faith, or who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends." Barak Obama, from Audacity of Hope.

  • "On each of these issues, at one point the church had near unanimity of opinion and then, over time and painfully, changed its mind to almost the exact opposite view." Jack Rogers. referring to human slavery, restricting permissible roles for women, and restricting the rights of lesbians and gays. 2

  • A Bible verse: Jude 1:3:
    • "... contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." (New International Version)
    • "... defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people." (New Living Translation)
    • "... continue your vigorous defense of the faith that was passed down to the saints once and for all. (International Standard Version)
    • " should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." (King James Version).

This is perhaps the most famous passage in the Bible that stresses the fixed, unchanging nature of Christianity.

  • Another Bible verse: Leviticus 20:13, with one of many interpretations:

    • "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." Hebrew Scriptures, King James Version.

    • "It is grounded in the old Jewish understanding that women are less worthy than men. For a man to have sex with another man 'as with a woman' insults the other man, because women are to be treated as property." Rev. Jill. Nelson, pastor of the Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church. 3

  • "All religions, with their gods, their demi-gods, and their prophets, their messiahs and their saints, were created by the prejudiced fancy of men who had not attained the full development and full possession of their faculties." Mikhail Bakunin, from "God and the State."

  • A comic strip interaction between Snoopy and Charlie Brown:

    Charlie Brown: 'What are you doing, Snoopy?'

    Snoopy: 'Writing a book about theology.'

    Charlie Brown: 'Good grief. What's its title?'

    Snoopy: 'Have You Ever Considered You Might Be Wrong?'

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Diversity of religious beliefs:

Using Christianity as an example, essays in this section describe how denominations and individuals decide what to believe, and how they have changed those beliefs over time.

  • Concerning beliefs: About 75% of North American identify themselves as Christians. But Christianity is composed of tens of thousands of faith groups worldwide. While they generally agree on what the Bible says; they cannot agree on what the Bible means. Even within one wing of Christianity -- the evangelical churches -- there are major disagreements about fundamental beliefs.

    Faith groups also cannot agree on which portions of the Bible teach truths that are valid:

    • Only for one culture and/or one era, or

    • For a limited range of cultures and/or a limited time interval, or

    • Are valid for all societies and for all time because they are universal truths.

    Many Christian faith groups do share certain cardinal theological doctrines. However, they still teach a wide diversity of beliefs on matters related to race, gender, human sexuality, and a multitude of other topics. Each group is sincerely confident that they know the will of God, that they are following the true meaning of the Bible, and that other faith groups within Christianity must be in error. They effectively teach almost all of their followers that they, alone, poses's the fullness of truth. However, since individual faith groups teach very different beliefs, we are forced to accept the obvious truth that most faith groups' teachings must contain major errors.

    InterVarsity Press, Zondervan, and other companies publish books which describe the full range of evangelical Christian beliefs about important religious topics. In these books, two to five leading evangelical Christian writers and theologians explain their personal views on a specific topic, and critique each other's beliefs as being false.

    It is worth noting that each of the authors is an intelligent, sincere, serious, devout, thoughtful theologian and is quite confident that their personal belief is the only one that is biblically based. Yet, the authors' conclusions conflict with each other.

    A comment by InterVarsity Press on its book "Women in Ministry" 4 is typical of this type of book:

    "Even those who agree that Scripture must determine our answers do not agree on what it teaches. And too often differing sides have not been willing to listen to one another. Here in ove [sic] volume are the views of four deeply committed evangelicals that focus the discussion on the issues. Robert Culver argues for what might be called the traditional view that women should not exercise authority over or teach men. Susan Foh suggests a modified view which would allow for women to teach but not to hold positions of authority. Walter Liefeld presents a case for plural ministry that questions ordination as a means of conferring authority. Alvera Mickelsen defends the full equality of men and women in the church. What makes this book especially helpful is that the writers all respond to the other essays, pointing out weaknesses and hidden assumptions."

    Topics covered in books of this type include atonement, baptism, communion, creation vs. evolution, divorce, female clergy, God's foreknowledge, Hell, hermeneutics, the millennium, justification, predestination, the rapture, salvation, etc.

  • Concerning change: Most religions do not readily accept change. Many faith groups only alter their beliefs after great agony, internal conflict, and even schism and violence. Sometimes it takes centuries to complete the process.

If the general public realized how diverse religious beliefs are, even within one wing of a single religion, and how extensive these religious changes -- and even reversals of teachings -- have been over the centuries, they might reach a different understanding of current religiously controversial topics. They might anticipate future changes. They may be able to adapt more easily to changes as they unfold. They may be able to educate their children in such a way that, as adults, they will be able to function more effectively in a very different, more accepting and tolerant culture.

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This topic is continued in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above menu. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Bishop Spong Q & A on Origins of Homosexuality," 2006-MAY-31 weekly newsletter. You can subscribe at:
  2. Jack Rogers, "Jesus, the Bible, and homosexuality: Explode the myths, heal the church," Westminister John Knox Press, (2006), Page 17. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  3. Fred Tasker, "What does the Bible say about homosexuality?" Philadelphia Inquirer, 1997-JUL-13.
  4. Book cover image Bonnidell Clouse, et al., "Women in Ministry: Four Views," Intervarsity Press, (1989). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

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Copyright © 2006 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-MAY-29
Enlarged: 2007-APR-05
Latest update: 2012-JUN-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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