34 Ardwood Place

Kitchener, ON

N2A 4C3

27 January 2008

Dear Stuart,

 Thanks for your letter of January 18th and I hope you had a happy birthday this month. I hope you have many more happy and healthy anniversaries of your birthday. May we both make it into the “geezer” category!

 I appreciate the time and care you put into your thoughtful response. I know you have a great deal on your plate and it’s gratifying to know that you affirm your love through such an individual and personal response. I’m especially grateful for your sympathetic understanding of my “turning point,” the death of my friend, Sharon, and my response to the shaking of my beliefs I felt.

 I haven’t read “The Pilgrim’s Progress” yet but I will, eventually.  

 Upon reading your letter, like you, I say, “it is hard to know where to start.”

  When you talk about sin, I can’t go any further than the first sentence since I don’t think there is such a thing in the ultimate, eternal sense. Temporal, relative, culturally based morality and guilt is evident for social control purposes and psychological development of individuals, families and societies. Religions have adapted this human, social function and assigned the authority for this phenomenon to their respective god-image. When it comes to sin and the nature of Man, your metaphors of pigs, sheep, the rescuing shepherd and the spanking father just don’t cut it, Stuart. Believe what you want and benefit from it but I certainly can’t see the truth in this line of thought for me. A common question in first year religious studies classes is, “Is there a moral order to the universe?” I don’t know. If there is, I doubt very much it’s the version you are selling. As I said before, I cannot accept the notion of a deity that created a plan to eternally punish the vast majority of his children, that he is reputed to love, with eternal agony because they are not clean (i.e., moral, purified, sanctified, submissive) enough to be in his presence and he knew how it was going to turn out all along. This is repugnant to me.

 Yesterday, I read a piece in a book I received for Christmas containing 100 speeches that changed history. I read, with particular interest, a speech or sermon by John Calvin entitled, “On Persecution.” Wow! Am I ever on the other side of his position! I found it to be an amazing and outrageous rationalization to justify the value of pain in a spiritual sense. (I will admit to a particular bias against Calvin since he was responsible for the burning at the stake of a Unitarian martyr, Miguel Cervantes, a.k.a. Michael Servitus, in Geneva after a “kangaroo court” hearing.) I heard echoes of your letter in his speech, too. It makes sense that you are a Presbyterian, as is my brother, Bob.

 You said, “Nothing happens by accident, Jay.” I disagree. I accept the possibility that there may be a direction that the cosmos is moving, that there may an evolution of consciousness in the universe but this does not preclude the element of chance, accidents, dead ends, etc. in the lives and experience of individuals. Although I believe we make a lot of choices of our own free will and are in charge of our lives more than we realize or want to accept most of the time, at other times our responsibility is to develop our “ability to respond” to the events that befall us – accidents, choices made by others out of our control, loss, pain, suffering or joyful and happy things, too. Many choose to interpret this through a doctrine developed over time to accept and rationalize events beyond our control and understanding. It’s comforting and creates order in their minds and I say they are entitled. More power to them. An example of this is your statement, “God takes home some his best servants……to be spared from evil” and that “they go immediately into the presence of the Lord.” Accordingly, you have some ancient scripture to justify this romantic belief, too.

 You said, “Genuine believers do not permanently wander from the path.” This is an assumption that I think needs further consideration by you. How, for instance, can one be identified as a non-true believer if there is a chance that one’s wandering from the path will end some time before death? If one gets back on the path before death, does this mean that the person was a genuine believer all along who strayed temporarily? And if one was a genuine believer who was in a straying period and died suddenly, would they not be seen as a non-genuine believer by your definition? It reminds me of the test for witches. When tied to a chair and submerged in water, it was taken as a confirmation of innocence if she drowned. Survival meant that she must have had evil powers to overcome nature and live under water for some time. Naturally, if she survived the drowning, therefore proving herself to be a witch, she was condemned to be burned at the stake. Like this historical example, your conclusions are suspect. Your logic is questionable.

 I don‘t expect an answer from you about this. These questions are simply rhetorical to make my point. I believe that you would say that only God knows the true state of one’s heart and that it’s not up to you or me to judge others. That would be a good answer.

 I could go on. We can go on talking at cross purposes like this but I don’t want to anymore. You live in a world that ignores reason, flippantly rejects science and builds whole attitudes on a few obscure sentences in an ancient book. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to continue these debates. I don’t want to hear your message any more, your call for me to return to the evangelical Christian fold and your preaching the narrow, prescribed dogma of your faith, no matter how much you are convinced that it’s true. I’ve said all I want to say and I’m moving on. I’d be happy to talk about something else for a change – kids, health, aging, friends, new experiences – anything.  

 My final comment is this. At church this morning, our minister spoke about reconciliation with our religious past. We were encouraged to think about an influential figure from our old church or mosque or synagogue or temple and imagine having a conversation with them. You and all the letters we’ve exchanged over the years leapt to my mind. I want you to know how grateful I am that you have been there as a sounding board for me, that you cared enough to sincerely tell me what you thought was best for me and I hope you will continue to love me as you do. It may be too much to ask to have you respect my separate, personal journey that takes me down a different path from you. Of all people, raised in the home and church I was raised in, I understand how difficult that would be for you. That’s OK. Although it would be untrue for me to say that I respect your path, namely that particular brand of conservative Christianity, I respect you, your sincerity, your commitment to the journey you are on and your right to seek Truth in your own way. We all do. That’s what we’re here for.

 I wish all the best for you and yours.

 Your friend, always,