Tuesday, February 27, 2018

--- Lectures on religion ---

There are a lot of great lectures and lecture series on religion. More than just about any subject, though, you should check out the lecturer along with the lecture. Just in a source like The Teaching Company or Academic Earth, you will run into a very wide range of orientations. For instance, in the offerings from The Teaching Company, I would consider Bart Ehrman unorthodox in his approach toward the apocrypha and pseudepigraphic texts of Christianity, but he obviously has broad expertise on the subject. Luke Timothy Johnson, on the other hand seems to have some liberal leanings but has great respect for the scriptures and I would call him orthodox. James Hall, who presents a series on the philosophy of religion for The Teaching Company makes no bones about his disbelief in a monotheistic God and the series focuses almost exclusively on arguments for and against such a being. The opencourseware from the Covenant Theological Seminary is extensive but expect a very strong Presbyterian slant.

All of this material is excellent. Just keep in mind that religious experts (and, yes, they are respected experts on their subjects) come in different flavors, and one may not be your particular flavor, but they all have things to say worth hearing.

Again, The Teaching Company products are for sale, but they tend to be worth it. Here are some of my favorites.

Introduction to the Study of Religion, presented by Charles B. Jones is a good overview of what religious studies is all about. If you want exposure to the philosophy of religion, this is a good choice.

The Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis, by Louis Markos, gives you a great amount of background information that you can use to appreciate, instead of just read, the works of C. S. Lewis.

Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles Over Authentication, Presented by Bart D. Ehrman. Like I said above, Bart Ehrman is one of the top names in the study of apocryphal (extra Biblical) and pseudepigraphic (spurious) Jewish and Christian writings.

Comparative Religion, presented by Charles Kimball, presents various common themes in religious thought as developed by the major world religions.

Francis of Assisi, presented by William Cook and Ronald Herzman. It's obvious that these people are passionate and consummately informed about their subject. St. Francis is right at the top of my list of favorite old dead people. If I were Catholic, my middle (consecration) name would be Francis.

Sacred Texts of the World, presented by Grant Hardy.
Introduction to Judaism, presented by Shai Cherry.
Buddhism, Presented by Malcolm David Eckel.
Islam, presented by John Esposito.
Christianity, presented by Luke Timothy Johnson.
Judaism, presented by Isaiah M. Gafni.
Hinduism, presented by Mark Muesse

If you want a tour of the five great religions of the world, I can't imagine a better introduction. These presenters are knowledgeable and engaging.

Here's another video that is well worth the purchase price.

In God's Name, directed and narrated by Gedeon Naudet and Jules Naudet, this National Geographic project explores issues of our times from the viewpoint of 12 world religious leaders. This is a fascinating film.

The opencourseware from Covenant Seminary is excellent. I haven't heard one that I didn't enjoy. The lectures are, of course, presented from a Christian perspective and the Calvinist bent of the Presbyterian church breaks through occasionally, but, for the most part, what is presented is core Christianity. Everything is there from Christian theology to the history and workings of the church. Their website is https://www.covenantseminary.edu.

I've mentioned Academic Earth before. They don't have many courses on religious topics and the ones they present tend to be on fairly narrow topics such as "Science, Medicine, and Religion" but they're great for going deeper into religious studies.

You might want to check out the Internet Archive's offerings also. For instance, Philip Harland presents a fascinating podcast on the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean (https://archive.org/details/Religions_of_the_Ancient_Mediterranean).

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

--- Religious software? ---

Like philosophy, you don't really think of software when you think of religion, but there are a few programs that I use a lot when I'm studying religion.

My favorite, when doing Bible studies is the Interlinear Scripture Analyzer available on the Scripture4All website (http://www.scripture4all.org). This program collects several Bible study tools that make the original languages available to most students of the Bible including versions of the Bible that can be viewed in parallel panels, concordances, and annotation tools.

Xiphos, made available as a free, open source download, is produced by The SWORD Project and is available here (http://xiphos.org). It also offers a suite of Bible study and note taking tools. There are a variety of extension modules available, for instance, from the Crosswire and Xiphos repositories.

There is similar software for the study of the Koran. Called Al-anvar, it is available at SourceForge (https://sourceforge.net/projects/al-anvar).

--- Religion on the Internet ---

The Internet has plenty of content about religion (and religions) but there are a few sites that I can recommend as references. As of 2/18/2018, these sites are still active.

Adherents (http://www.adherents.com) primarily provides up to date statistics on religious groups, but also has resources that describe various religions, denominations, and movements.

The Big Religion Chart (http://www.religionfacts.com/big-religion-chart) provides a nice, compact comparison of most of the world religions you are ever likely to encounter. It is part of the ReligionFacts (Just the facts on religion.) website which provides many other resources including a pdf downloadable version of the Big Religion Chart.

Religion Online (http://www.religion-online.org) is an excellent digital library of (mostly Christian) resources including many ancient and modern classics.

Among these three, you should find plenty of information to get you started in your own religion studies.

If you want to find a particular sacred text, the Internet Sacred Text Archive seems to be the largest Internet repository of religious writings (http://www.sacred-texts.com). Since it has information on the Necronomicron, a fictional tome mentioned in the horror literature of H. P. Lovecraft, I'd say it's pretty complete.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Back on Bear Creek

After my disastrous end of the year, I am back on the trail. I don't have nearly the endurance I used to have but that will come. I've figured out how to halve the trail, though. If I just walk the section from River Point to Wadsworth, I can catch buses back home on Yale; then, if I want to walk the other half, I take the Yale buses there, walk to Morrison and backtrack.

Back on the trail

                                                   An unintended ice sculpture

The trail has changed a little. They have a large portion, between Sheridan and Wadsworth blocked. It looks (and smells) like they're putting a sewage line in. The trails that follow Dartmouth are still serviceable.

The Bear Creek Coffee Company is no longer at Dartmouth Plaza but has been replaced by Java on the Creek - also a nice place to take a break from a long hike. Their signature chai was well worth the stop, and the have a fireplace (digital, but perty). If you want to check them out, they have a website:


I'll be making a longer report after I go back for the rest of the trail next month. There's a straight shot trail that I want to try that might cut some considerable distance off between Fox Hollow Golf Course and Morrison. I'm looking at signs on the trail, rules and regulations, and where they come from.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

--- Books I like ---

It suddenly struck me (Whack!) that putting the reference blogs at the end of a section is sorta like putting the cart before the horse. So, I'll remedy that.

If you're going to sample the variety of religions in your area, two references are a must - an extensive reference of denominations, and an extensive reference of religions.

A great reference for world religions is the Adherents website, but I'll discuss that in the next religion blog. A good "book" is the Handbook of Religious Beliefs and Practices, a manual used by the State of Washington Department of Corrections. Evidently Washington state is serious about religious freedom in their prisons and they actually consulted people who practice various religions - both major and minor. This manual has been through several revisions - the copy I have is 2012 and is available at www.doc.wa.gov/docs/publications/500-HA001.pdf

For a complete rundown of denominations (Christian and other), I haven't found a better reference than Frank Mead's Handbook of Denominations. The 13th edition is by Craig D. Atwood, Frank S. Mead, and Samuel S. Hill (2010 Abingdon Press, Nashville).

World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts by Andrew Wilson (ed.) is an interesting topical comparison of various sacred texts. It was published in 1991 by the International Religious Foundation and can be accessed here: https://www.tparents.org/Library/Unification/Books/World-S/WS-01.pdf (accessed 2/14/18).

Modern religion can be dizzying in it's diversity. If you want a field guide to new religions, I would recommend the Encyclopedia of New Religions edited by Peter B. Clarke and published by Routledge (2006).

A fascinating read is the Magico-Religious Groups and Ritualistic Activities: A Guide for First Responders by Tony M. Kail. (2008 CRC Press). The title says it all.

If you want to do an in depth study of a specific religion you might want to track down a sample of their major sacred texts and read them. But be forewarned, some religions do not have texts, they have libraries.

--- Religions in the Denver area ---

I grew up in Alabama, deep in the Bible Belt. When I was a child, the church was the center of community life. That was where you met everyone that was anyone. And inclusion in the community was inclusion in a church. As I became older, other centers formed - the country club, the office - but the church retained prominence in the Southeast. It was an important fact that I was a member of the church that the administrator of the facility where I worked attended. My immediate supervisor went to a sister church. I can't think of anyone offhand that I worked with that was not a member of some church or another.

So it was an adventure when I spent a week in Denver with a friend in the 80s and never saw a church the whole time I was there. Later, I returned for an interview in Denver and, again, never saw a church. An acquaintance was speaking at a church several miles away, but I couldn't work things out to attend. And, yet again, I visited other friends in Denver and never saw a church.

When I moved to Broomfield in 2013, I found a couple of churches close to where I lived. Both were Calvinist. While I would gladly visit a Calvinist church; I couldn't be comfortable as a member. That's a big difference between the church crowded Bible Belt and the secular Denver area.

In Selma, I was a member of a Baptist church. Next door on one side was an Episcopal church. On the other side was a Presbyterian church. Across the street was a Methodist church. If you couldn't find a church of your particular flavor, turn around and you'd be staring right at the very one for you.

In Broomfield, if you found the right one, you'd best grab it. Of course, when churches are isolated, they tend to hold on to their peculiar distinctions tightly.

Did I say that Denver is "secular"? Well, in a way it is. Being a member of a church isn't a necessary prerequisite for belonging in the community. It's an option. A person isn't looked down on for being a church goer, but outdoor activities are also a definite option, or work, or sleeping in.

On the other hand, Denver is a very religious community, or spiritual. You can easily find the organized versions, or the "metaphysical" ones.

When I moved to south Denver, I found myself in the middle of a plethora of diverse churches - no Baptist churches close by, but I'm not that picky. In fact, I was looking at a small church that made me feel quite comfortable...when we moved again. Let me see. In that neighborhood was an Independent church, a Christian Church, an Episcopal church, a Presbyterian church, Anglican, Lutheran...

Where we moved, there was an Episcopal church across the street and a Unity Fellowship a block over. Within walking distance were Dutch Reformed, Church of Christ Scientists, a biiiiig Baptist, Quaker, Russian Orthodox, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist...oh, Unitarian Universalist, Nazarene, Jewish....I started going to the Episcopal across the street.

Every major world religion is represented in Denver and many (many!) minor ones. I've visited several Christian churches and one Buddhist and plan to visit many more. And there is a large school of theology at Denver University, just down the street, and Denver Seminary a bus ride away. Here is plenty of diversity and much adventure. Then there are the "metaphysical" shops.

My past ministries - including two gospel groups and membership in a chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association - has carried me into many churches and many different kinds of churches and I've always enjoyed the visits. Now I find that Denver is paradise for the student of religion.

Here are a few of the many churches in Denver.

What are your past experiences with organized religions? Were they positive or negative?
How many different religious institutions are there in your area? You can probably use Google Maps to find churches in your area. Just search on your address and then click NEARBY and,  in the Nearby bar, type "churches" or "religions". Use the zoom bar in the lower right corner to zoom in and out for more or less detail.
If you have never visited a church, here are some tips for doing so.

If your purpose is to learn - about cultures, about beliefs - then respect others beliefs, otherwise you will find the door shut in your face.

Sharing your own beliefs may be counterproductive. The people you're visiting don't have the goal of learning about you and they may even be hostile to others' ideas. Keep your own goals in mind.

A good position for observers is the back of a sanctuary, on the lower level if there's a balcony. Often, it's hard to get a full view of everything from a balcony.

Suspend disbelief. You're not seeking for truth, here. You should be a passive observer of others' beliefs.

If possible, don't take notes or record sounds (and, if you do be very open to the pastor about what you're doing and ask permission first). The congregation isn't going to be very happy about "being studied."

Absorb the experience. Don't be analytic until after you leave and then, as soon as you can, sit down somewhere and take notes. Memory isn't nearly as reliable as some folks think.

Study the situation before hand and look for information afterward to help you answer your questions. Don't just come up with your own explanation. The real facts may be quite different from the obvious "facts". Often a church will provide a visitor's guide that explains what the church does during a service. The church I attends provides a good play-by-play explanation of what a visitor will see and why they will see it.

Some practices are sacrosanct. In a Christian church, nonChristians are not welcome to take communion. Understanding what people believe and why they believe it will provide understanding about these "odd" practices. Don't take anything personally. In a small, country church, where the gospel group I was a member of was performing, we were breaking down our equipment when an elderly lady tottled up and said, "I sure enjoyed you boys' singin'. It's just too bad that you're going to hell because you're a Baptist." I just smiled and said, "Thank y', ma'am."

"Religion" doesn't just mean "church". I mentioned "metaphysical" shops above. You can often find out lesser held beliefs in such places. Religious schools and seminaries might also be productive places to visit.

Every adventure has it's own dangers. If you're a Christian, then you might believe in demonic influences and things like palm reading businesses and metaphysical shops may be dangerous for you. If you're a Buddhist, even the driving desire to get new knowledge might be seen as dangerous. If you belong to a church, you might meet some resistance from them toward you visiting other churches. If you're going to have adventures, then you are going to meet with dangerous situations. Educate yourself before each adventure and evaluate, not only the situation, but your own performance in it afterward.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Something new - recommendations

My purpose for posting these blogs is not to brag about my own exploits. It's to encourage others to go out and experience their own worlds. To emphasize that, I will begin putting suggestions for others that want to explore some of the topics in their areas.

That sounds a little pompous to me. Who am I to tell you how to explore your world? There are parts of the world where I would be lost, without a clue as to what's going on. With that in mind, I don't take my suggestions and necessary or sufficient.

They're not necessary because your own creativity is your best guide. These are just some ideas that might give you inspiration or somewhere to start. There are so many other ways to approach these subjects, I couldn't hope to scratch the surface.

They're not sufficient because I can't hope to encapsulate everything about any topic. You might start where I left off and go in a completely different direction.

And remember, you can post comments. Adventure can be in interaction with others. I like diversity. I would like to hear other's ideas. I would like to see people disagree with me (and why). And, especially, I would like to read others' stories.

It's a new year and I'm looking at new things. I hope you stay with me and go much farther than I have. Explore your world - and, maybe, even change it.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

--- Me and religion ---

I was born into a Christian family. You would think that explains my Christianity. Ehhhh, not so fast. In a 2009 study by The Barna Group (https://www.barna.com/research/evangelism-is-most-effective-among-kids, accessed 2/4/18), based on two nationwide telephone surveys and a nationwide online survey of 2632 adults, 992 of them self reporting as "born again Christians", only 64% became Christian before the age of 18, and of those, only half were led to Christ by their parents and one in five were evangelized by some other friend or relative. (And, since I'm a statistician, I will add that the error in this survey was a maximum of +- 2.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence level for the whole sample and +- 3.2 percentage points for the born again Christians.)

I'm a werewolf. My primary source of belief is experience. Beliefs aren't as "sticky" for me as it is for other folks. I have to have a reason to believe something - and I'm very suspicious of apologetics (more about that in a later blog.)

But, it's important that I come clean about my position in religion before I start blogging you. I will not use this blog as an evangelism tool - that's not what it's for. I will not criticize any other religion in it (unless someone beats me up for asking). My goal is to encourage you to ask questions and to get out and find the answers in the real world, and my primary target here is what schools call "religious studies". You might call it "religious philosophy". It is important.

You can't even talk about the history of any field of learning without talking about religion. For instance, Sir Isaac Newton was a devout Christian and much of his motivation for writing the Pricipia, in which he detailed his theory of mechanics including his famous "Three Laws", was motivated by his religious fervor, as is indicated in a letter he wrote to Richard Bentley and which is available on the Newton Project website (http://www.newtonproject.ox.ac.uk/view/texts/normalized/THEM00254 accessed 2/4/18). Most art before the Renaissance was motivated by religion. Most early philosophy was informed by the religious beliefs of the philosopher. The impetus of early classical music was religion. and so on.

So, yes, I am a devout Christian, a pandenominationalist because I hold to a very core system of Christianity, pretty much that expressed by the Apostles' Creed, that allows me to navigate most denominations but I am also very interested in both the philosophy of religion and the wide scope of world religions. In other words, I  have been studying the Bible and the history of the Christian religion since my early 20s, but I have also studied most of the major religions and many of the minor ones. I''ve even read some of the scriptures.

As a therianthrope, I've had shamanistic experiences since childhood which, although it doesn't seem to have subtracted from my Christian faith, I'm sure they have colored it. If anything, I recon that my experience of the Holy Spirit as a spirit guide has rather solidified my faith in Christ.

I respect other religions in that they have emphasized various facets of reality in more detail than my own. For instance, Buddhism's close evaluation of desire, though not missing in Christianity, is certainly scrutinized in much more detail. The modern fear in the church of anything different (I have heard church leaders warn their congregations to avoid yoga because it derived from Hindu beliefs,) was not a part of early Christianity. Even Paul quotes from pagan philosophers (Acts 17:28).

So I look forward to further adventures in religion in the Denver area and I hope you will join me in your own parts of the world.

Friday, February 2, 2018

--- Video adventuring ---

Again, although this blog primarily urges the reader to get away from their TVs and computers and experience their world actively as immersive adventures, we can't get away from the fact that, today, cyberspace is part of our world. I've talked about programming and using software to explore concepts and I've talked about opencourseware and other video lectures as fun and interesting ways to learn and to prepare for real world adventures.

Documentaries offer another form of learning, usually a little lighter than the extensive lectures and courses. They can also present another kind of adventure.

TV offers a variety of documentary venues - channels like the National Geographic, Discovery, and History channels, to name a few, but I like the Internet sources. Several websites provide access to documentary films that you can "surf" through and find surprising gems. I've noted that MIT uses the Internet Archive as a repository of video lectures. It also uses iTunes U. I might add that YouTube also hosts a huge variety of educational features.

Here are some addresses:

Internet Archive https://archive.org
iTunes U - You have to have iTunes and you can access iTunes U from there.
YouTube https://www.youtube.com

Repositories will often have a search bar. Internet Archives let's you filter a search for particular kinds of media. That's really helpful when you're looking for films and there are thousands of items to scan through.

If you go to the Internet Archives and just type, say, "psychology" into the search bar, you're going to get all the video lectures available and a lot of other stuff, even if you filter out everything but films. To surf through the documentaries, search on "psychology documentary" and "psychology documentaries".

Video lectures offer in depth presentations of topics. Documentaries tend to be narrow in scope and, usually, geared toward general audiences, but can be surprisingly entertaining.