General Theological Seminary From the Highline in New York City.

Tensions at Episcopal Church’s oldest seminary reflect larger crisis in future of theology schools

General Theological Seminary From the Highline in New York City.

General Theological Seminary From the Highline in New York City.

NEW YORK (RNS) Nearly the entire full-time faculty at the Episcopal Church's oldest seminary is battling with the school's leadership, although neither side agrees whether the professors quit, were fired or staged a walkout.

Either way, the dispute revives a long-standing debate about the future of General Theological Seminary and the larger question of how storied seminaries should adapt to the changing culture.

GTS, the flagship seminary that has produced generations of bishops and noted theologians, is the only Episcopal seminary overseen by the national church. Last week, eight faculty decided to stop teaching classes, attending official seminary meetings or attending chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.

The school reported 10 full-time faculty in its 2013-2014 annual report to the Association of Theological Schools, the main accrediting body for more than 270 seminaries and graduate schools. That left the student body of 70 students with just a handful of full-time faculty. A spokesperson for the school did not know the number of faculty and students for 2014-2015 before press time.

The dean and president, the Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle, wrote a letter to students saying the Board of Trustees accepted the eight faculty members' resignations. But faculty member Andrew Irving wrote to students saying the professors never suggested they would resign.

"We wish to underline that we have not resigned," Irving wrote, suggesting the group was seeking legal counsel. "Our letters did not say that we would resign. We requested meetings with the Board."

The Rev. Ellen Tillotson, an Episcopal priest in Connecticut and a GTS board member, wrote that it has become clear that the eight faculty have been planning a walkout.

"When offered such an ultimatum, what were we to do? No, they never used the word 'resign,'" she wrote. "But over and over they said they were unable to continue to do their jobs unless we met unmeetable conditions."

On Tuesday (Sept. 30), the Board of Trustees made clear in a statement that the eight faculty had resigned, and the board said it's willing to "meet with any former faculty member about the possibility of reconsidering the resignation."

"The Board came to this decision with heavy hearts, but following months of internal divisions around the future direction of General Seminary ... it has become clear that this is the best path forward in educating our students and shaping them into leaders of the church," the statement said.

The eight faculty are charging that Dunkle shared a student's academic records with people who were not authorized to see them, which would violate federal academic privacy standards. The faculty also say he speaks in ways that have made women and some minority groups uncomfortable on several occasions.

In their earlier letter, the eight faculty laid out concerns with the school's leadership.

“It is our view that that the President has repeatedly shown that he is unable to articulate sensitively and theologically the issues that are essential to the thriving of the Body of Christ in its great diversity,” the professors wrote in an open letter. “Moreover his failure to collaborate, or to respond to our concerns when articulated has resulted in a climate that many of us find to be fraught with conflict, fear, and anxiety.”

In its statement, the Board of Trustees said it was "conducting an internal investigation into certain allegations of statements" pegged to Dunkle. "Further comment on the investigation, pending its outcome, would not help that process. We encourage everyone to withhold any further judgment or comment," the board said.

GTS, however, is not the only seminary to face questions about its future in a rapidly shifting landscape of seminary life.

The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., has also seen a battle erupt between its dean and faculty. Of the Episcopal Church's 10 seminaries, several are facing financial challenges. Bexley Hall Seminary in Ohio affiliated with Seabury-Western Seminary in Illinois to form Bexley Seabury in 2013.

“There appears to be a profound lack of theological reflection in the process of change that the Dean has undertaken, which along with an impatience with relationship-building, that is strangely at odds with the mission of a seminary to form and prepare priests for mission in parish communities,” Andrew Gerns wrote in a post for Episcopal Cafe.

In 2013-2014, GTS enrolled 70 students and had $10.6 million in expenditures and $27 million in investments, according to ATS. GTS had faced about $40 million of debt that it was attempting to pay down through property sales and redevelopment.

Dunkle has been trying to address the school's long-standing financial problems by tightening up operations. Dunkle, who was previously a lawyer, graduated from GTS in 2004 and worked as a diocesan administrator and as a parish priest.

GTS focused its energies redesigning several buildings on its Chelsea campus into the Desmond Tutu Conference Center in 2007, an effort that was supposed to bring hotel and conference revenue to the seminary. The anticipated revenue never materialized, and in 2012, the facility was sold to a developer.

The turmoil reflects a broader debate over the future direction of seminaries. Some seminaries are shifting away from the traditional three-year "residential" model to distance learning to save costs. Across denominations, many aspiring clergy will go to a local seminary for the bulk of their coursework before completing a degree at a denominational seminary.

Seminaries with low-residency programs often don’t require students give up their full-time jobs to move to another city. The questions at Episcopal seminaries mirror larger issues at Protestant seminaries, said Jason Byassee, senior pastor of Boone United Methodist Church and a fellow in theology and leadership at Duke Divinity School.

"Can an incarnational faith be taught in a disembodied way?" he asked. "Online education isn’t necessarily disembodied, but that’s the question everyone is having to wrestle with."



  1. “The turmoil reflects a broader debate over the future direction of seminaries.”

    Seminaries must close.

    These poor guys go into seminary thinking that by spreading Jesus Christ they
    are spreading love and goodness in the world and saving souls. It is heart breaking. Because there is absolutely no support for this claim.

    Meanwhile, religion is a fool’s errand. And these schools must be put to a different use.

    As the doubters, atheists, agnostics and secularists attempt to sort out whether any of the worlds 20,000 religions are true, clergy are spreading false claims (as in unsupported) which have no place in our modern civilization:

    Meanwhile Clergy around the world are teaching dangerous garbage:

    1. They preach Hell to children. Evidence has shown that this is abuse. It literally destroys a child’s thinking ability to be told that there are certain thoughts which will lead to eternal damnation – imagine for a moment the crime of that preachment and the damage to our civilization!

    2. Most preach in favor of Creationism. Unsupportable nonsense.

    3. Many preach against science; our most reliable method of proving and demonstrating things to be true or not to each other.

    4. They ALL endorse faith – the same disgusting method of ‘confirmation’ employed by religious terrorists. Faith is not a method of confirming anything to be true. Validating ‘faith’ as way to ‘know’ borders on criminal negligence.

    5. They endorse the terrorizing, sadistic, unsupportable idea that a punishing, invisible authority is always monitoring one’s thoughts. Even when one is dreaming. There is no support for this at all.

    6. Clergy endorse (by default) ancient religious texts full of hatred on religious grounds directly or indirectly of all the members of the out-groups: other religions, other tribes and others who are tainted with ‘sin’ of some kind. So Jews are ‘christ-killers’ and Christians are ‘infidels’ and Muslims are ‘of the devil’.

    7. Clergy preach that members of other religions will also go to hell – though there is no evidence to support any of these claims. This has been divisive nonsense for long enough.

    Religion is not benign.

    Religion is not some peaceful, quiet private matter. It is a boatload of wild absolutist claims.

    Ask James Foley if Islam is ‘private’ or peaceful.
    Ask the Palestinians if Zionism is peaceful.
    Ask Jews in Tel Aviv if Islam is peaceful.
    Ask Rwandans if Catholicism is peaceful.

    It is all dangerous, divisive and primitive it should be abandoned.

    Close the Seminaries. Quit this nonsense.

  2. Observations that churches never come close to admitting even though the evidence, with Christianity as well as Islam, is all over the place and undeniable.

  3. Max, I guess you want to have all of Carl Jung’s writings burned in your process?

    L Thiel

  4. Mr Max – You aren’t very familiar with the Episcopal Church, are you?

  5. “Close the seminaries” ?? Seriously??

    I understand your argument, but aren’t we getting just a little “Mao-Zedong Redux” on this one, Max?

    Besides, last time I checked Google Earth, THIS locality is called “The United States Of America.” And according to various rumors, we happen to allow a little RELIGIOUS FREEDOM for churches and seminaries up in here !!!!!

  6. Actually, it can be argued that it is through the failure to attend to the academic learning and deep communal formation offered by seminaries that shallow and quite often dangerous perversions of theological teachings are allowed to flourish. We have only to witness the dismay and profound horror of our Muslim brother and sister academics over the rise of Islamist perversions of their own tradition to understand what can happen when rigerous study and spiritual formation are abandoned.

  7. Actually, just for the records, at General Theological Seminary they have been teaching for decades exactly the opposite of what you claim they teach. All of your 7 points.

  8. Episcopal seminaries can’t continue to run in the same manner that they did 20-30 years ago. This is the fruit of the things that have been forced through the church to cause schism. This is only just the beginning. The chickens are coming home to roost. And last time I checked the catechism, heaven and hell are still part of it. Not that I’m trying to support the ramblings of atheists. Individual Episcopalians might have Unitarian beliefs and ignore the catechism but the teachings are still there.

  9. Well, Mr Elliott, in all fairness, for better or for worse, we are a pretty tiny church compared to other American denominations. But taking your point, Mr Max spends a lot of his time on Religion News every blessed day picking fights with people. If you don’t believe me, open any story at random and you’ll find his intolerant rantings repeated over and over again in story after story.

    I personally think this reveals a much more ambivalent relationship with religion than he’d ever care to admit he has.

  10. Wow, I figured someone would try to politicize this, congrats on doing it so fast.

  11. Hey Eric, the whole thing is political, every last bit of it.

  12. I’m not trying to outlaw religion. Far from it. The Establishment Clause should be enough to protect everyone.

    I’m trying rather to wake people up
    that this is dangerous nonsense and they should abandon it by themselves.

    “Bring to me those enemies of Mine who would not have me as their King and Execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)
    [from the repulsive parable of the minas where jesus plays the nobleman who returns to wipe out his disobedient servants – by making his good servants do the killing.]

    “Slay the infidels wherever you may find them” – SURAH (Q’uran)

    “Kill the unbelievers in the daylight where they may be seen” – Deuteronomy (Torah)

    Religion is indecent. It is divisive, hateful nonsense.
    Even “love thy neighbor” becomes dangerous and toxic in this mess.

  13. @Gianluigi,

    “General Theological Seminary they have been teaching for decades exactly the opposite of what you claim they teach. All of your 7 points.”

    Not true. When I see Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Exodus and the Epistles of Paul ripped from the Bibles in Seminaries I’ll believe you.

    Until then, The Seminaries still teach these nightmarish notions:

    1. Seminaries ALL endorse faith –
    But Faith is nonsense. Faith is not a method of confirming anything to be true. Teaching ‘faith’ to gullible young people as way to ‘know’ is almost criminal negligence. You are disabling the thought process and the critical faculties of such a student.

    2. Seminaries endorse GOD; The terrorizing, sadistic, unsupportable idea that a punishing, invisible and unaccountable authority (God) is always monitoring one’s thoughts. Even when one is dreaming. There is no support for this at all.
    “I make peace and create evil…I the Lord do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)
    God claims everything is his fault. But he blames humans! Incoherent nonsense.

    3. Clergy endorse (by default) ancient religious texts full of hatred on religious grounds directly or indirectly of all the members of the out-groups: other religions, other tribes tainted with ‘sin’ of some kind.
    So Jews are ‘christ-killers’ and Christians are ‘infidels’ and Muslims are ‘of the devil’.
    It is judgmental garbage.
    (1 Corinthians 5:11)

    4. Seminaries (and madrases) teach that members of other religions will go to hell – It is a requirement of Jesus and Allah that division be clearly stated. Pastors may reject it if they wish – but it is a wild card and there are no checks and balances. Satan is very useful to the clergy – and he is always coming from the other tribe, whoever they may be.

    “If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed!”
    (1 Corinthians 16:22)

    Episcopalians, like Anglicans threw away the fire and brimstone sermons long ago. But the ancient texts are just as worthy of the trash heap. They rekindle the fires that burned witches.
    Seminarians are indoctrinated to respect, sanctify and bless those despicable texts not as mere philosophies – BUT as the Word of a God.

    “shake the dust off…FOR A TESTIMONY AGAINST THEM.” – JESUS (MARK 6:11)

    This divisive religious nonsense must be abandoned.
    (*not outlawed*)

  14. Seminaries teach JESUS.
    How much immorality and evil can a person handle?

    “I have come to bring FIRE…What constraints! I am impatient to bring not peace but calamity.” – Jesus (Luke 12:49-51) (NAV)

  15. @Scott Elliot,

    Actually I am.
    I was a Catholic for 44 years and spent much of my time in Episcopal churches because my cousins were Episcopalians. My point is not that Episcopalians are cruel, or that Priests are evil – I tried to explain that.

    The texts are evil. The religion is evil. The injunctions and claims are unfounded and damaging.

    If you don’t like Madrases you shouldn’t like Seminaries either.
    Religion does more damage and adds more misery than any other philosophy invented by humans.

  16. I think a fair number of Episcopalians would agree with many of your criticisms of religion, actually . . .

  17. @Daniel Berry,

    “I personally think this reveals a much more ambivalent relationship with religion than he’d ever care to admit he has.”

    Do you read the news at RNS?
    Do you understand what Hobby Lobby has accomplished?
    Do you understand what ISIS is doing at the direction of Allah?
    Do you care about the little children burned because they were claimed to be ‘witches’ in Uganda?
    Do you care that Pope Francis has endorsed supernatural garbage in Africa regarding Exorcisms – and that this has led to many deaths?

    I care about the endless damage done to the rest of us – nonbelievers of all sorts – who are trying to live normal lives but keep getting Jesus shoved onto our laws violating the separation of church and state.

    State Legalized Murder of Doctors – South Dakota

    Mandatory Trans-vaginal probes – Virginia Legislature

    Preaching the Bible in public schools – funded by Hobby Lobby

    Forced prayer at Government meetings – Supreme Court has allowed this.
    Blocking people from family planning – Texas, 5 other states.

    Obstruction of prescriptions – Illinois, Washington

    Discrimination as religious choice -Arizona (SB-1062)

    Anti-Gay laws – Texas
 & elsewhere

    Anti-women’s rights laws – Texas, Louisina, Virginia

    Biased Counseling laws – South Dakota

    Creationism to replace Science Education: 12 States
    “Intelligent Design” to replace Scientific theories

    So as long as Religion is funding these faith-based programs
I will have to challenge it.

    Don’t be angry that Jesus can’t seem to function without all these government programs.

    Atheists are getting louder because Christians are tampering with our public laws.

  18. You and Max are correct. It is refreshing that someone is speaking sense.

  19. it is a lonely, and somewhat sad, mission you carry on, reverse-evangelising to such an extend here on these message boards. i would say “godspeed,” but you’d probably take it the wrong way. here’s a thought: get off your damn computer, and take a walk, breathe in the air, and realize that you’re wasting your time posting so much. maybe write a book, or maybe start a blog, or play with your kids, or play with someone else’s kids, or a dog, or volunteer at a homeless shelter, or something positive instead of cranking it out on a freaking internet message board all day. maybe all these “evil” religions will die off, but you could at least spare yourself some frustration, anger, bitterness, and let them die nice, natural deaths, and take that energy and put it towards something useful. damn, after all that, i think i’m going to take a walk. cheerio.

  20. He’s got a point Max. You have some good moments (well, maybe), but you honestly cannot afford to sound like the Atheist version of ISIS. Nobody on any side wants to go there.

  21. …And that’s why the Episcopalians are on the ropes. They need to evolve a backbone and stand up to the skeptics and atheists.

    (Of course, that might mean having to CLEAN HOUSE a little first!!).

  22. Sad that you spend the kind of effort and energy you do just trying to show us all how ‘smart’ you are. You offer nothing but criticism of something toward which you have unfathomable anger. You may not embrace the Catholicism of your youth, but at some point I pray you get past all that obvious hurt. Whether you acknowledge it or not, Judgement will be at God’s direction,not yours, and eternity is an awfully long time to be wrong.

  23. Blocking people from “family planning”. … Um thats abortion or in reality baby murder. So that means you are against blocking people from murdering babies. You are therefore for murdering babies. Let’s not try to hide your hateful attitude in semantics. Hobby lobby is against murdering babies. I guess that’s an awful and terrible thing. Mr Max you are what you accuse Christians of being.

  24. Intramural bickering over the carrion.

    Anglican seminaries now train people to act as executive secretaries to social clubs which gather weekly for singalongs, bad lectures, and bad coffee. Their seminarians are there in pursuit of opportunities to be salaried den mothers (which may or may not materialize as their fussing over declining revenue, repairs they cannot finance, and the hedges).

    Anglican parishes no longer have any serious collective mission. They are pure legacy institutions. Regrettably, the supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church is a man who seem bound and determined to replicate the social and cultural process which made Anglicanism in the western world what it is today. It’s a march of folly.

  25. *searches Internet for articles about religion, copies and pastes boilerplate anti-religious screed*

  26. @Nunya,

    *You don’t have to search the internet to know that shunning, supernatural nonsense and beheading is evil.*

  27. #hashtag,

    “Take a walk, get outside, help the homeless”

    Thanks. I do those things.

    But in the meantime, tell me more about your support for Islamic beheadings, Fatwas, Zionist land grabs, Palestinian honor killings.

    If you don’t know that religion is destroying civilization,
    you are not paying attention to anything.

    “Bring to me those enemies of mine and execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    If my mission is ‘a little sad’ it is because people like you don’t care about the crimes against humanity you celebrate and endorse.

  28. @Doc Anthony,

    “you honestly cannot afford to sound like the Atheist version of ISIS. Nobody on any side wants to go there.”

    As a supporter of the separation of church and state – how can I possibly ‘GO THERE’ ?

    It is exactly the inhumanity of religion which I protest.
    It is the blind eye you Seminarians, Priests, Mullahs, Preachers, Nuns and other clergy give to the fundamental disease at the center of your entire philosophy of religion; FAITH.

    Faith is the unaccountable Authoritarian dictator you are so terrified of – YET IT IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU ENDORSE AND PREACH.

    Wake up.

  29. @Forgiven,

    “Sad that you spend the kind of effort and energy you do just trying to show us all how ‘smart’ you are.”

    Wrong. Just because I figured out the most obvious thing in the world – that god isn’t real – that doesn’t make me a genius.
    I didn’t get smarter when I became an Atheist. I became more sensitive to where the problem lies: it is Faith itself.

    “You offer nothing but criticism of something toward which you have unfathomable anger.”

    Right. And beheadings at the direction of a god don’t make you angry? If so, feel sorry for yourself. Not for me.

    “You may not embrace the Catholicism of your youth, but at some point I pray you get past all that obvious hurt.”

    Don’t take the focus off the problem. ISIS Beheadings are evil. What are you doing to argue against faith in beheadings? Defending faith is what the Islamists are doing – if you believe in faith you are cut from similar dangerous cloth.
    “bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King and execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    “Whether you acknowledge it or not, Judgement will be at God’s direction,not yours, and eternity is an awfully long time to be wrong.”

    First of all, if you believe this I’m laughing at you. Do you really think that God can’t tell if you are faking your ‘faith’? Some God you have!
    And what is this loving threat of eternal hell anyway? For not believing in it?
    So you want to fake your faith? Fine. But don’t call it righteousness or piety. It is laughable.

  30. @Hoss,

    “Family planning”

    Or are you one of those women having a baby every 9 months !?

    Ignorance such as yours is the child of FAITH!

  31. So, where did you go to school – since you know all about this…

  32. This comment stream is a mess. I nearly forgot what the article was about by the time I reached the end. Maybe there’s a better place for you guys to have this argument? That, or you’re just hoping for the site to institute moderated comments ASAP.

    But now that I remember the article, it doesn’t give me enough information — it seems to collapse the reasons for faculty disgruntlement into the Dean’s efforts at fiscal responsibility. But the faculty didn’t seem to be commenting on that effort at all. Am I missing something?

  33. I apologize for my comment, Paula; it is unrelated to the article. I agree; it is difficult to stay on the article topic under these circumstances.


  34. The topic is religion.
    Nobody has to apologize for going off on religious tangents. The all connect to the article above.

  35. The larger cultural context is that many churches no longer see the need for a classically trained theologian/minister. Many churches want religious entrepreneurs that can help them survive or prosper. Most churches still want a degree title behind the name of their leader to give a sense of legitimacy. All seminaries are caught in this bind and are often unsure what to do about it. The great polarizing upheavals and schisms within mainline Protestantism and Catholicism are also creating unmanageable anxieties within these institutions. The future is uncertain and these crises breed conflict. Seminaries are being forced to know and cater to their preferred constituency which is always in flux. Today seminaries often merely reflect the dysfunctions and conflicts within the larger religious entities that have birthed them.

  36. You obviously have no idea what seminaries do. The “garbage” that you attribute to all ministers is almost always shoveled around by those who have no seminary education. Seminary-trained clergy are far more likely to present the gospel–the “good news”–in ways that are intellectually credible, morally plausible, and consistent with the best of human nature. So, your beef is not with seminaries or the clergy they produce; it is with unreflective religious bigots, of which (by the way) you are one.

  37. @Scott,

    “unreflective religious bigots, of which (by the way) you are one.”

    No I’m not a bigot.
    I am against Cancer, not Cancer patients.

    Bigotry is when someone is treated unfairly for qualities they have not control over – skin color, ethnicity, sexuality. Bigotry is not for people who willfully tell lies. It is not bigoted to hate LIES.

    You don’t get to hide from the claims you are making
    just because it is ‘religion’. You do not get a pass.

    Religion makes a boatload of claims for itself – one on top of the other.
    As a former Christian I know all those claims very well.

    Seminarians have no ‘Good News’!

    It is not ‘good news’ that some god named Yahweh turned himself into his own son and arranged for that son to be tortured and shot up with the 1st Century’s equivalent of an AK-47 !

    It is not ‘good news’ that Yahweh did this murder/suicide to ensure that his only method – which involves innocent blood hitting some dirt – would ‘save us’ from an eternal punishment of Hell which HE HIMSELF had designed specifically for this purpose!

    It is not Good news that if we don’t believe this Murder/suicide and LOVE the god who supposedly committed it, that God will do much worse things to us – for eternity!

    This is not good news. It is exhausting, dangerous, infantile garbage.

    “Bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King, and execute them in front of me.” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    There is NO good news here!

  38. MAX!!! That is really awesome.
    I’m Openly Secular and loving it 🙂 and it just so happens that your post really reminds me why I’m happy about not being part of the religion anymore! Whew, AK-47, LOL!

  39. “it is a lonely, and somewhat sad, mission you carry on,”
    Um,,,, hashtag….
    There are 60 million non believers in the US. They may not all be against religion in general as Max appears to be but that is a huge number and those of us who don’t believe are neither sad nor lonely especially now that people are figuring out that religion is a pretty awful thing. Just ask the many victims of religion around the world. It is pretty obvious.

  40. I have lots of real people to love me. Family, neighbors and friends.
    We all have a great time.

    As far as I can tell, I haven’t seen Jesus showing up at any of my cookouts. I don’t know how – or why – he would love me. But if he shows up he can certainly join the party no problem 🙂

  41. Max,
    You do realize that the verse from Luke (Luke 19:27) is a quote from Jesus, as you correctly attribute it. But the quote is lifted out of a parable (made-up story to tell a point) Jesus was telling. It is actually the words of a made-up king who represents the unfairness of the world.

    When your arguments are peppered with quotes taken out of context, that when considered in context have a very different meaning, you lose credibility.

    I’ve enjoyed many discussions – civil discourse, actually – with many people: religious people, people who consider themselves “people of faith” but who claim no religion, atheists, and people who fall elsewhere on the spectrum. Those discussions have opened my heart and mind to new ideas, some of which I’ve embraced, others which I reject for myself but respect where the ideas came from and the person who holds those ideas.

    Your discussion can, in no way, be considered civil discourse. You are much more like the street corner preacher (who I can only imagine you must despise), shouting his viewpoints at passer-bys. You may have some valid points but few can hear you past all the noise you make.

  42. @Bonnie,

    “Execute them” – JESUS(Luke 19:27) is a quote from Jesus,
    .. But the quote is lifted out of a parable”

    Sorry, Bonnie. I’m not buying it.

    Every Catholic, Christian and Orthodox interpretation of the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19) states very clearly that the Nobleman in the Parable is Jesus giving a lesson about Himself.

    In this parable Jesus is preaching two very important messages: Obedience and fear. He also states that the executions will be done unto those ‘servants’ who did not obey by the servants who DID obey.

    It is a spectacularly immoral parable.
    For people who say that Jesus is loving or at worst, benign – do not understand that they are endorsing some of the most evil preachments in the history of the world.

    I ‘make noise’ because beheadings at the direction of Allah are offensive.
    “Slay them wherever you find them” (Surah) Q’uran.

    I take the Islamist’s word for it that the reason they are killing infidels is because they are trying to enforce the laws of Islam within their Caliphate as Allah (apparently) dictates.

    Religion is not worthy of respect. It is just one more awful idea in the world which doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

    I make noise because I am disgusted that the rights of Gays, Women and others are being denied because of Christian claims which are clearly inhuman and needlessly judgmental and divisive.

    “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.”
    (1 Corinthians 1:13)
    “have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.”
    (2 Thessalonian 3:14)

    You have every right to believe it if you wish – I defend your right to do so. You have freedom of religion and I fully support your right to speak it an preach it.

    But the Supreme Court and our Right Wing politicians appear to be on an urgent tear to force this religious gibberish onto the rest of us!

    And expect also to be confronted by those of us who want to see religion get even LESS respect.
    Religion should be no more important than belief in leprechauns – because that is about what it is worth.

    At least Leprechauns don’t endorse capital punishment in the name of a god!

  43. While I agree with your understanding of religion as it pertains to fundamentalist strains, I wholeheartedly disagree with the black and white thinking simply dismissing all religious people and all visions (worldviews) of the religious type as inherently evil. I think it’s safe to say you lack any understanding of the more progressive members. Look up Progressive Christianity and you will see that they have more in common with atheists than fundamentalists. They would agree with pretty much every point you made without throwing their tradition out the window. There are religious people generally, Progressive Christians specifically, who don’t preach hell (I actually believe to preach that creates hell here on earth), who have no problem with modern scientific understandings such as evolution by natural selection, who have a different understanding of “faith” than what you purport, who are radically supportive of spiritual autonomy (not believing in thought-crime), and who are radically supportive of biblical criticism and seeing the obvious prejudices within one’s tradition (including one’s scriptures). As a Progressive Christian, I am constantly in the position of having to defend my progressive, and I would say rational, views from those who are religious extremists, the brand of religion that you speak about. I think if you inquire into it a little more you will see that not all religious people are your enemy, and in fact many have come to a healthy synthesis between their tradition and reality as known in science and reason. In my opinion, the Episcopal Church is one of the denominations that is in the forefront in the Progressive movement. Look up authors like Marcus Borg, retired Bishop of Newark, John Shelby Spong, Gene Robinson, and Desmond Tutu. These are some of the biggest proponents for compassionate religion that is rid of superstitious hysteria. They support science, multiculturalism, and social justice.

  44. @Jesse,

    “There are religious people generally, Progressive Christians specifically, who don’t preach hell..”

    I sympathize with your sentiment.
    I understand that in your opinion the preachings of Jesus and Yahweh can be softened (dramatically) to be more loving.

    It is precisely the willful decision of your inner humanity that I am appealing to. Look at what hoops one must jump through in order to make Christianity ‘behave’ decently. Something is wrong with a philosophy which is dangerous if practiced as instructed.

    I was devout Catholic and then a Progressive liberal Christian myself for many years. In the end, it is the truth that matters.

    We are all paying an enormous price in the world for our religions. If your Faith is okay, you have no argument against the Jihadi, or the Hindu or the Zionist or the Islamic terrorist. You have granted him permission to act on his beliefs regardless of where his ‘faith’ takes him – and that cannot be right.

    Please take the focus off of me. I’m not concerned about ‘my enemies’.
    The Seminaries are sending out preachers of a philosophy which absolutely must not be taken literally. Same is true of the Madrasas and their Imams.

    “The master shall cut him to pieces” – Jesus (Luke 12)
    JESUS describes what he intends to do to his own enemies.

    “..bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King, and execute them in front of me.” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    “Drown him with a millstone” (Matt 18:6)

    “And why do you break the command of God
    for the sake of your tradition? …. ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ ” (Matthew 15:3)

    “…if they are unworthy..REMOVE your blessing of peace.” – JESUS (Matt 10:13)

    “I have come to bring FIRE…What constraints! I am impatient to bring NOT PEACE BUT DIVISION.” – Jesus (Luke 12:49-51)

    “Hate your parents…hate your life” – Jesus (Luke 14:26)

    “Eat of my body” and “Be baptized and believe” or “Be condemned to Hell” – Jesus (John 6:53-54) (Mark 16:16).

    “I shall kill her children with Death” – Jesus (REV. 1:22-23)

    “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death…for ME.” – JESUS (Matthew 10:21)

    “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his daughter, and a daughter against her mother, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.” – JESUS (Matthew 10:35)

    “And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet AS A TESTIMONY AGAINST THEM.” – JESUS (Luke 9:3-5)

    JESUS ENDORSED the stoning laws – He rejected any change to the stoning laws of Moses.

    “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commands and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” – JESUS (Matthew 5:18-19 RSV)

    “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law” – JESUS (Matthew 5:18-19)

    Inhabitants of conquered cities
    Victims of rape
    People who work on Sunday
    Uncircumcised men
    Men who have sex with women who are menstruating
    Ignorers of Priests
    Ignorers of Sacraments
    people who drink blood
    People who eat peace offerings
    People who let food go bad
    People who do magic tricks
    People who go to temple while filthy
    fortune tellers
    False prophets
    People who approach the Tabernacle
    Pretenders of witchcraft
    Pretenders of other religions
    Stubborn children
    Rebellious children
    Children who disagree with their parents
    Women who marry their daughters
    People who are irresponsible with their bulls
    People who pretend to worship idols
    People who actually worship idols
    Unruly children
    Slaves who run away
    Slaves who disobey
    Wives who disobey
    Men who steal
    Women who steal
    Children who steal
    Children who pretend to be witches

    There would be nobody left.

    If the literature cannot be followed literally, what does that tell you about the value of the literature?

  45. “It is all dangerous, divisive and primitive it should be abandoned.”

    The fact that *some* people of faith have been dangerous, divisive, primitive, immoral, murderous, etc. in no way means it all must be abandoned. Any more than the fact that some atheists are murderers itself means that atheism should be abandoned.

    As a pastor, I happen to think that intolerant, extremist thinking should be abandoned. Such as that of many Christians throughout history. Also, yours.

  46. The only way you can make any of this work is to apply the most rigid fundamentalist hermeneutic there is. You’re in good company there, along with the likes of Westboro Baptist Church. Bravo!

    Look, I imagine it’s frustrating and inconvenient to your argument that most Christians don’t resemble the straw man of your creation, but just because you are either ignorant of or don’t believe in the validity of other hermaneutics, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

  47. @TR,

    “I happen to think that intolerant, extremist thinking should be abandoned.”

    Okay. Let’s start with Jesus:

    “I have come to bring FIRE…What constraints! I am impatient to bring NOT PEACE BUT DIVISION.” – Jesus (Luke 12:49-51)

    “The master shall cut him to pieces” – Jesus (Luke 12)
    JESUS describes while hiding behind an allegory, what he intends to do to his own enemies.

    “have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.”
    (2 Thessalonian 3:14)

    Please, Pastor.
    If it is not extremist to preach this Jesus of yours
    I cannot be extremist for arguing against it.

  48. @TR,

    I know most Christians don’t resemble the ‘straw man’ in my argument.
    I was a Christian myself for decades.

    The point is not whether Christians are bad.
    The point is that the philosophy of Christianity is no better than Islam.

    It is based on ‘faith’ which is wrong headed and dangerous.

    Seminaries are full of nice people. The philosophy they are learning and the mission they undertake however, is not good.

  49. Well, again, anyone seeking to apply a literal interpretation to those texts – which even Jesus himself didn’t do – would be among the most extreme Christians I can think of

    I do appreciate your responses, Atheist Max. May I ask you a couple questions in all sincerity:

    Would your anti-theist arguments hold up if they didn’t depend on such a narrow interpretation of Jesus/scripture? And if so, what would they be?

  50. “The point is that the philosophy of Christianity is no better than Islam.”

    I didn’t see anyone here make that claim?

    I think that religious motivation is powerful, and as such, is particularly pernicious when deployed toward violent ends. But that same measure of power, when deployed toward personal transformation and social justice can make huge difference in the quality of life for individuals and/or a community.

    On that note, I’m curious: do you disagree that this is so? Do you think the bad stuff outweighs the good stuff? Something else?

  51. @TR,

    “…anyone seeking to apply a literal interpretation to those texts – which even Jesus himself didn’t do.”

    Well, I don’t seek to apply the literal interpretation at all. It is just that it is impossible to make a clear claim about what is literal and what is not.

    The wiggle room between what is real and what is allegorical is so wide that the texts no longer have any real meaning.

    1. What does it say about a work of literature that to take it ‘literally’ is exceptionally dangerous? It should be a hint that something is very wrong.

    2. Where is it written that Jesus was not literal? How would anyone know where the true lines are?


    “He is risen”(Matt 28:6)

    “Whatever you ask in my name … I will do it” (John 14:13)

    “Take no thought for the Morrow”(6:34)

    “Love thy neighbor”

    “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:51-53)

    “Truly, Truly I tell you…For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” (John 6:55-59)

    “If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them shall be put to death…they have forfeited their lives.” (Lev 20:13)

    “I am the door” (John, 10:9)

    “You shall not taste of death before I return”(Matt.16:28)


    1. “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified….” (John 14:13)

    2. “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:2)

    3. “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (Matthew 21:22)

    4. “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7)

    5. “Therefore I say unto you, what things so ever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” (Mark 11:24)

    6. “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24)

    7. “For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.” (Mark 11:23)

    8. “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6)

    9. “Whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” (John 5:14-15)

    10. “…I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them.” (Matthew 18:19)

    11. “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17)

    And ON
    AND ON…

    One doesn’t need to be a fundamentalist
    to see Jesus is going FAR out of his way TO BE LITERAL.

    But the consequences of believing THAT HE MEANT IT LITERALLY are not benign!

    To blame poor results of a prayer
    on one’s own ‘faithlessness’ as Jesus scolds, is cruel twice; first because He supposedly required so little faith to begin with (the size of a mustard seed being sufficient), and second because failed prayer can add to human desperation at precisely the wrong time.

    Also, “Seek and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7) is a sinister adjunct.
    Of course all prayers will work perfectly if one sneakily asserts that God’s will is behind any outcome; as in, “God knew what you needed, and it was not what you asked for”.
    But that is simply not fair.
    Why tell me to pray for WHATEVER I ASK if you didn’t mean it, Jesus?

    Yet, here is a short list of particulars for which Jesus has had a 100% failure rate in 2000 years of record keeping.

    There is no reliable record of a prayer:

    Reversing the loss of a leg, arm, finger or toe
    Reversing a single case of Polio
    Reversing Aggressive Child Leukemia
    Reversing a single case of Tay-sach’s Disease
    Reversing a single case of Lupus
    Reversing a case of ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease
    Reversing a case of Smallpox
    Reversing a case of the Plague
    Reversing the death of a child
    Reversing the death of a grandparent
    Reversing the death of a pet
    Reversing the death of anyone outside of a bible story
    Reversing blindness outside of a bible story
    Stopping a natural disaster outside of a bible story
    Turning water into something else outside of a bible story
    Reversing skin diseases outside of a bible story
    Ending the Mets losing streaks
    Reversing the spread of Nuclear Weapons
    Reversing a case of Malaria
    Reversing a stroke
    Reversing MRSA Bacterial Evolution
    stopping earthquakes
    halting Tsunamis
    halting mass killings
    stopping car accidents
    ending child rape
    ending hunger

    Whatever answer Jesus has given to these particular prayers it is indistinguishable from not answering.
    No amount of faith will matter.

    I’ve done the homework.
    Jesus’ repeated promise, “Whatever you ask, I will do it”
    does not appear to be true no matter how it is interpreted.
    It is cruel.


    To summarize,

    The choice of what to take literally or not literally is entirely in the hands of the reader. Like Tarot Cards or Astrology readings the insights are whatever YOU want to pretend them to be.
    And you will be right!

    And that is terrifyingly dangerous.

    “Bring to me those enemies of mine
    and execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

  52. @TR,

    “Would your anti-theist arguments hold up if they didn’t depend on such a narrow interpretation of Jesus/scripture? And if so, what would they be?”

    Thanks for this question.
    I had a very loose interpretation of scripture for most of my life. I was never a fundamentalist. Even when I was a devout Christian for 44 years.

    If you had asked me 5 years ago if Jesus had been raised from the dead I would have said, “Yes!”

    And this would have roughly
    been my argument in favor of Jesus Christ:
    “Jesus was a historical figure, the apostles experienced something so incredible and amazing they left a track record of stories and events which must have actually happened somehow. Most of the gospels must be true.
    Even if only a few of the miracles of Jesus happened as claimed it is enough for me. My grandmother who I loved so much, could not have been wrong – any doubt is just the devil working with my mind trying to lead me astray. Besides I love Christmas too much to not believe it. Look at at the joy I get at church and with my family when we pray together. There must be something to it – I feel something deep in my heart.

    Sometimes I would tear up a little when I received Communion – a very lovely feeling indeed to feel that my creator, my God loves me.

    But this all changed.
    I discovered that faith is not a valid way to determine the truth of things. And God and Jesus and the rest of it all disappeared.

    I’m not sure my interpretations of Gospel are so narrow. I am interested in whether the claims are true or not.

    I am an Atheist because I simply cannot believe in God anymore.
    I am an Agnostic because I cannot know if a god exists.

    In the meantime,
    while the fact of god’s existence are apparently not known, we cannot know what a god would really want us to do.
    So practicing anything which would be obviously harmful at the direction of a claim about what God wants is ludicrous.

    Islam is beheading blasphemers. But suppose Allah isn’t real?
    Christians are forbidding gays to marry. But suppose there is no god to care?
    Jews are seizing land at the direction of a contact with Yahweh. But suppose yahweh isn’t real?

    All of those things instantly become immoral if god doesn’t exist to demand them.

    It is easy to see the harms of religion.
    Vicarious redemption – the idea that a man was slaughtered for my personal benefit. Very hurtful and bad for you to think too much about.

    But you get the idea.
    I know most Christians and Muslims are fine people. But that is because most people are generally wonderful –
    It is not because a god exists. From my point of view it is clear they are wonderful despite the fact that no god exists at all.

  53. Indeed. He’d better watch is inflammatory rhetoric, or we may offer him cake and coffee.
    If one is to criticize a denomination for being violent, hell-preaching, exclusionary, and the like, one may wish to choose one without a (retired) bishop who is opposed to things like theism.

  54. Dear Max, when attempting to discredit a movement or a worldview it’s a good idea to know something about the movement or group that one is addressing. Your comments suggest that your experience of Christianity is more or less limited to its fundamentalist expression. Your use of the word, “faith” indicates that you have no idea of the word’s theological meaning. If you’re going to criticize something at least make the effort to know enough so that the people you’re criticizing recognize themselves in your critique.

  55. @John-Otto,

    “Your use of the word, “faith” indicates that you have no idea of the word’s theological meaning.”

    The act of attempting to believe something which is otherwise demonstrably unbelievable.

    How am I wrong?

  56. Only one question
    Very intetested in the sources for your
    OPINIONS….A 40 yr Episcopalian I would like to read your references if you care to
    share..I think God is everywhere.The church gives you place to focus with God

  57. The Episcopal Church, with its 3-legged stool theology (scripture, tradition, reason), being the most liberal of current mainstream Christian denominations, would probably be seen by atheists as headed in the right direction. Let’s face it; there aren’t many primary tenets in Christianity that would pass the reason test. Original sin? Human virgin birth of a Divine being, whose foretold death and resurrection would forever be the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who believe? None of that seems very reasonable to me. The Episcopal Church is called by many, “Catholic Lite”. The Episcopal Church Catechism has 17 pages, the Catholic Catechism, over 1000. The Episcopal Church is losing US membership rather drastically. With no evangelism program, that probably could have been predicted, with the birth rate declining. If it survives another couple of decades, it will probably be merging with the Universalist-Unitarians, their theology probably being similar by then.

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