Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rediscovering the Bible (Sermon)

My good friend Jerry (who happens to be a more faithful reader of this blog than I am a writer of it) is a fellow skeptic who I know from our various overlapping interests at CFI. He also attends a Unitarian Universalist church, and has told me about it in the past. I was very impressed by what I heard: the Unitarians manage to preserve the social atmosphere of mainstream religion (think potlucks and network of friends), and the social activism (think charity work and donations to good causes), without any of the dogma or supernaturalism we've come to associate with church. The emphasis, instead, is on acceptance and affirmation of all individuals, and celebration of everyone's personal journeys.

Though I was always very interested in visiting (and have been wanting to experience more varieties of religious experience), I usually wanted to spend my available Sundays at my regular Presbyterian church. Then, late last year, Jerry invited me to come and speak about the Bible. I eventually picked a date in January, and decided I'd talk about how I learned to appreciate and enjoy the Bible more when I learned to read it critically. Two weeks before I was scheduled to speak, I came to get a feel of what I was in for.

I must say, I was impressed. One of the first things I saw, in the fellowship hall, was a stack of flyers welcoming gay, lesbian and transgendered couples. For someone from an evangelical background, this seemed like an amazingly huge step forward for mankind. No church I'd ever been to before would advertise acceptance of gay people, let alone have a nice picture of two men embracing affectionately. If they did accept gay people, it would be with a "don't-ask-don't-tell" style approach, or a "let-us-try-to-fix-you" policy.

Another thing that impressed me was that after the lecture, which was about the naturalist John Muir, there was a question and answer period! As someone who usually has something to say, it's always been difficult for me to sit on my hands after a sermon and have no outlet to respond (well, I can talk about it with a buddy or email the pastor). But think of a church where you can get up afterward and tell someone you disagree!

So, on January 27th, 2007, I came to speak at Jerry's church. I first talked to the children, reading pieces of Richard Dawkins's letter to his daughter on Good and Bad Reasons for Believing (I really should have tailored it and made it more interactive), and then gave my talk on "Rediscovering the Bible." You can listen to the full audio of my talk here (or right-click the link to save the .mp3 file):

20080127 Ross Blocher - Rediscovering the Bible - UU Church of Verdugo Hills

The talk seemed to resonate well with a lot of the members there, a lot of them having been raised in conservative religious traditions as well. I got a lot of great feedback, and even someone who chose to disagree with me! I plan to attend again this Sunday to hear my friend Jim Underdown talk about the similarities between miracles and paranormal claims.

1 comment:

Tammy Takahashi said...

I was at your talk, Ross, and I enjoyed it immensely. Despite my many years of attending Sunday school as a kid, I really have no knowledge of the bible. Your talk was a great introduction for a skeptic/realist like me :)

I had a similar reaction to the UU church when I first attended. I even asked myself, "Is this really a church?" Even after several months of attending services, I find it funny to say, "I'm going to church today," because it doesn't fit in my head what a church is supposed to be. I guess I'm re-learning!

Thanks again for pointing me to your site. I'm going to forward this post to my husband, who is an atheist who had to basically memorize the bible in order to graduate high school.