Rational Theism as a practicing denomination

Commenced by Ken Wear, Easter Sunday, 2005
For worship service assists, click here.

There is a unity in philosophy, science and religion; in this world of competition there is need for an organization committed to recognition of that unity. Atheists have found it wise, in the propagation of their teachings -- and Rational Theists should do no less -- to come together in an organizational structure with houses dedicated to regular meetings and group activities. I offer here suggestions that I think most agreeably and practically lead to an organized denomination or sect that could justify the name "Rational Theism," tenets of which are offered in the web page Rational Theism: Let Reason Guide Your Walk With God.

Of all truths, we first and foremost recognize that Deity -- an organized and active intelligence Who is guardian of all -- has a place in our daily deliberations and practices*. And then we accept what rational thought dictates since it is difficult to deny what our senses clearly sense.
*Perhaps including, upon awaking and again at 11 a.m., a brief prayer asking Him to continue your walk together.)

Religion is an intensely personal, yet practical, activity. Not only does it offer comfort to its practitioners in times of stress, but it offers guidance in the treatment we accord each other and encourages thoughts and activities beneficial to ourselves, to the lives we touch and the surroundings we share. There is no reason Rational Theists should be at odds with practitioners of any other system of belief since we all strive for a union of self with the larger world in which we are immersed. It serves no purpose to be antagonistic toward others whose personal histories have led them to subscribe to traditions that lie outside your notion of the bounds of rational thought. Moreover, adherents to Rational Theism should have arrived at that dedication through exercise of their own minds.

If you agree Rational Theism* should become an organized institution, you can be part of that effort. Click here.
*My web page Rational Theism: let reason guide your Walk With God describes my notions; to peruse that click here.

I awoke this morning with the realization that presentation of articles of rational belief is not enough, that an outline of religious doctrines seems hollow without suggestions for living an upright and rewarding life. My early life was aligned with Protestant Christianity; I have cursory acquaintance with other monotheistic systems of belief (including Hinduism and other Eastern religions), and I assert that Rational Theism is more closely aligned with Protestant Christianity than any other major branch of religion.

I am drawn to the idea of worship in natural settings1 (for Footnote, click here), including song, prayer, study, admiration of and appreciation for Nature in all its forms, and presentations and discussions that promote both the faith and correct personal behavior. But there also needs to be places sheltered from the weather and housing, in addition to a common meeting place, facilities for study of science, philosophy, ethics, religions, history, nutrition, bodily development, the natural world and other elements of the development of mind, body and personality. It should be evident that development of mind and body are aspects of worship since a sound body allows for extending the time span of an individual life and hence the opportunities for worship; and a well-informed mind assists in adoration of deity and appreciation of His handiwork. A fully developed facility for worship will include provision for bodily maintenance, athletic competition and family activities as well as a library, classrooms and laboratories for study, instruction and exploration. (Knowledge of Nature and its workings is the province of education and appreciation of Nature and the deity as driving force in Nature is an aspect of worship.)

I have great respect for the literature from which others have learned to live and regard all as having been inspired by ideals of grave importance to the human authors as each sought to respond to the Divine Will. Of all religious documents in my own background I prefer the moral instruction contained in the New Testament's St. Mathew 5-7, known as the "Sermon on the Mount" (or the counterpart St. Luke 6:20-38), with the addition of other selected passages from the New Testament and the book of Proverbs from the Old Testament, as the starting point of personal and group ethics. I have stated elsewhere2 (for Footnote, click here) my own interpretations of religious doctrines I encountered as a youth and recommend those discussions as an initiation into pursuit of truths any individual can adopt and foster.

I perceive as duties of the individual, in the conduct of his religious faith, in order, as:
Acknowledge and honor deity and the result of His creative activity
Respect and honor your fellow creatures
Petition deity for guidance (prayer or its equivalent)
Ethical behavior toward other humans*
Stewardship of Earth and all its components**
Stewardship of personal earnings, possessions and environment***

*The Ten Commandments3 (for Footnote, click here) is a good starting point, although "kill not" should be amplified since we harvest vegetables and slaughter animals for food, and we defend the safety of both self and our fellows.
**Which requires specific knowledge resulting from study and observation.
***Which includes preparation for career, beautifying your home and grounds, preserving and sharing possessions of value.

I recognize as milestones in the passage of each individual through life: (order as appropriate)
Introduction to rational explanations of the diversity of nature and life
Undertaking study of the coalescing of nature into Rational Theism
Completion of his formal education
Incorporation into the work force
Arrival of children
Reaching adulthood (a fully-formed brain--about age 25)
Confirmation as Rational Theist
Empty Nest
Arrival of grandchildren
Retirement from the work force
Bodily decline (Onset of decline was at birth)
Death and release of his spirit from its bodily confines
Return of the body to dust
Whether any of these warrant personal or group festivals I will not suggest although confirmation should likely be a requisite for recognition as part of the body of believers. And, even there, I do not suggest any requirements beyond a statement of personal principles and belief -- no rites or formalities or special preparations, although local personal or group preferences should be honored.
Taking a meal together offers an opportunity to share the blessings of faith in God and to thank Him for His role in instituting religions among men.

Thoughts about prayer as thanksgiving and adoration, as well as practical introspection and petition for guidance:
Whether audible or silent, prayer is intended to be communication with authority figures in the Spirit Realm. Thanksgiving and adoration, of course. Petitions for daily needs, sure. Requests for guidance, certainly. Consolation in times of stress, without question. While I am uncertain about its nature, reason tells me there is a link between the Physical and Spirit Realms; the visitation from my dead mother4 (for Footnote, click here) testifies to that. And I, like most, have had what I sensed as both answered and unanswered prayers.

My life has been, in a sense, a continuing prayer (as I had requested of God as a young and much more idealistic man). I am grateful for having awakened this morning for another day immersed in God's Nature as reshaped by man in my neighborhood. And I occasionally petition for guidance in this matter or that. More than this it is difficult to say, but let me recite a bit of my experience in business. From time to time I would be required to make a decision, and, after wracking my brain and not finding an obvious answer, I would cease the mental debate and engage in a prayer for assistance. Remarkably, with uncanny frequency, I would emerge from prayer with a solution that was much more appropriate than anything I had considered during my agonizing reflections. What is prayer? I can speak only for myself.

In recent years I have come to recognize a desire for a particular change that would drastically alter my circumstance, but there was a task that had apparently been set before me that I had resisted undertaking. The answer in my prayers was consistently "You know what you must do." Well, I ceased to resist and this web site, including its presentation of Rational Theism, resulted. The web site is now essentially mature; my answer in prayer has now changed to revolve around specific steps to make my life more complete.

In thinking about things religious, a question arises about what is sacred. We must agree that religion is a specific system of belief, worship, conduct, etc., and that what is holy is regarded with or deserving deep respect, awe, reverence or adoration. Then what is sacred must be regarded with the same respect and reverence accorded to what is holy. Notions of sacredness lie within the mind; evidently the artifacts that you regard as sacred are dependent on your background in religion. I have reflected on what I personally regard as sacred. I recognize that adherents to many religions regard certain books and texts and artifacts as sacred, such as a crucifix or a Bible or Koran or Book of Mormon. I consistently take this view toward all such things: While I respect the adherents and their sense of reverence, I do not myself regard the 'things' as sacred. In fact, sitting here thinking about it, I can think of nothing -- no artifact -- that I regard as sacred. I stand in awe at deity and seek to conduct my life in a manner that is pleasing to Him. But that is an idea -- a product of consciousness and intelligence -- as well as the other end of a silent dialogue. I do not regard any artifacts of which I am aware as imbued with a fragment or aspect of the Divine Spirit and hence deserving the respect and accord with which I regard deity. So, what do I worship? I appreciate and respect with great depth much of the natural world and the things of Nature; I respect these things as products of His handiwork. But I pray to the deity and hold for Him alone my submission and reverence. As a practical matter, of course, my prayers are directed to whichever Spirit is answering in His behalf at the moment with the assurance that responses will proceed from whatever level in the Spirit Realm seems appropriate, including the deity Himself.

Who should be considered a Rational Theist? I grew up in the Old South and my family avoided everyone not of Northern European descent. I later learned that Jews and Greeks and Italians and Lebanese could also be worthy of my respect. Later I was in Japan and discovered that Orientals can also be worthy. Still later I had working with me a black man who is one of the finest human beings I have ever known. It all reinforces the idea that we need to take the time to overlook stereotypes and evaluate each person on his own merits. I would not shut the door to anyone who wishes to subordinate himself to the deity and give due reverence and honor. All are made in the same image and we assume all are equal in God's sight. While we would not want vicious or self-seeking people in our managerial ranks, a church should work to improve the lives of all and welcome into its midst all who come, with an appropriate mind set, of their own volition.5 for footnote, click here.

I must hope adherents make no attempt to form isolated communities of believers. Natural relationships such as family and close associates should be encouraged and nurtured since therein resides mutual support and growth. I see in such cults as Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientology effort to isolate cult members from their natural relationships, this as a means of forcing cult members to rely on each other and thus strengthening their cult by forming isolated communities of believers. While still taught in some quarters, I note that Protestant Christianity has largely abandoned the practice; we see the results in modern Islam, where each sect is at war with other sects; in my lifetime whole cults, most of which practiced isolation, have arisen and perished.

Some sects are offensive in their aggressiveness; I do not support such aggressive outreach to present Rational Theism to friends, neighbors, associates and citizens. Gentle suggestion is enough for those with mind enough and time enough to question orthodoxy. Rational Theism will be appreciated by the inquisitive and will earn the allegiance of persons willing to allow reason to dictate their choices. Hopefully there will arise recognizable centers dedicated to pursuit of Rational Theism so that other inquirers may find a haven dedicated to the consequences of rational thought.

What should be the elements of a worship service? I have liked the order of service in a Southern Baptist church:
Opening instrumental music while congregants assemble,
choral music to open the service,
opening prayer and/or statement,
congregational singing accompanied by the choir,
needful announcements, (perhaps) more songs,
instrumental music during money offering,
a choral presentation, prayer,
sermon or other exhortation,
invitation for non-members to join,
closing congregational singing accompanied by the choir,
and instrumental music while congregants acknowledge each other and depart.
But others may have other preferences.

It would, of course, be necessary to adapt the order of worship in an outdoor setting, where it may be difficult to have musical instruments.

I have removed references to specific sectarian teachings from a number of songs, and there are many others that can be adapted so they may be sung by adherents of any monotheistic faith. And there are many songs that can be adapted with little change and can be sung with equal fervor by the religious, areligious or irreligious alike.6 For footnote click here. The same footnote calls up other suggestions for inclusion in worship services when the objective is to honor God by gaining knowledge of Earth and its attributes.

Should public expression of charismatic experiences be encouraged? I am inexperienced here. While I wish to respect the individual right of free expression, I must also respect the wish of others to pursue their own religious experience without disruption. If this distinction in the conduct of church services becomes a matter of concern, then the most likely resolution will be separate church services for those of charismatic temperament, perhaps in an adjoining auditorium or at a different time of day or during the week.

In addition to regular meetings in a common meeting place, I have suggested group meetings in settings of natural beauty to appreciate Nature; my notion was that at such meetings there would be presentations of some aspect of science that is visible at that location. To me the deity is glorified when we recognize that natural law has been influenced over the eons to cause the things around us to work as they do. Leaves. The spectrum of sunlight. Nourishment of plants. The human digestive system. Organs of sight and sound. The flyways of migrating birds. Stages of a butterfly. Varieties of birds and adaptations to specific food sources. Nor would I exclude discussion of the works of man that exalt man as the ultimate achievement of deity, such as the Sistine Chapel and other works of art or engineering works that seek to exploit Nature for man's benefit. The list could be extended for pages even though I am impatient with those who would insist deity is absent from these developments. I conclude that texts must be developed for the scientific aspects of worship and the humanities must be explored for ethics and appreciation of man's contributions to life.

Should the congregants include those who find worship of deity outside their system of belief, they should be afforded an opportunity to have their own service of appreciation during the exhortation (if the name of deity is likely to be invoked).

Is there a text or study guide that is suitable for the teaching of Rational Theism? For the present it may prove necessary to select passages from the Bible, other religious documents and scientific or technical writings; with time new writings will appear that present science and the works of man while honoring God; for now we must make selections from existing writings that seem appropriate. It is, of course, instructive to study what other believers believe as part of our understanding their motivations.

The desire to believe is powerful and can readily lead a person to set aside reason. So it is with religious documents composed during a period of scientific illiteracy when there was neither knowledge nor language of science. I have heard it said that in ancient times a message that did not rely on miraculous underpinning would not command attention. So we are treated in our religious documents with descriptions of events that we know in reason were real events but described in a fashion to present them as miracles.

My background is in the Protestant Christian church, where the Bible is the source document. We know in reason that many events presented as historical happenings could not have proceeded as described. But we have no way to reliably separate fact from fancy so we are presented with the choice of accepting descriptions as literally accurate portrayals of real happenings or allegory intended to portray a truth ; or we can apply the power of mind to discern a most likely scenario or reject the description as fabrication. I have concluded that either rejection or unquestioning acceptance represent the lazy approach to studying the scripture. Were a modern newsman present his description would be quite different even though filtered through his own mind set.

Those ancient documents represent inspiration by devout people doing their best to court divine favor from the foundation of their own knowledge, vocabulary and experiences: devout people trying to serve God as they interpreted the divine Will at the time.

Is there an interpretation of this person Jesus of Nazareth that lends to Rational Theism a distinctive view that sets it apart from other denominations? While each of us must grapple with questions and reach answers satisfactory to himself, I view the answer in this way: I have no doubt Jesus lived and taught, but I view Him as a very ordinary mortal, a human being in every sense of the word -- if you can say there is such a thing as 'ordinary' since we are each unique. His body, with its inherited characteristics, was selected as the vessel for the spirit chosen to possess that body. Since we all possess free will (rejecting the notion of predestination), how did the spirit inhabiting that body come to recognize His calling as a special agent of deity? Considering my personal experience with prayer, I suggest that Jesus learned of His calling through prayer. And how did it come about that He knew to pray? We can look to the then-centuries-old religion originating in the tribe of Judah as providing motivation for prayer. So His devout parents influenced Jesus to pray.

I have no doubt Jesus possessed an unusually alert and powerful mind. We know almost nothing of His early life or His education since His ministry commenced in adulthood. The Interpreters' Bible suggests Joseph died at an early age, but not before Mary gave birth to four other sons (James, Joses, Judas and Simon) and daughters whose number and names are not known.

I was reared in a Fundamentalist atmosphere that presented the stories from the Old and New Testaments (as translated in the King James version of the Bible) with the assumption they were literally and historically accurate (even if they defied logic) and thus suitable for presentation of guidelines for living. Of course the dark side of the Bible's content was never presented, but close reading of the text between those stories reveals a vicious deity exercising immense power in pursuit of highly personal objectives that, in the light of modern political realities, will curdle your blood. But I am reluctant to select only those portions of the Bible that amplify my interpretations of Reality and reject those displaying cruelty, viciousness and other degrading activities attributed to deity. Some stories are, of course, historically accurate, but it is difficult to sort between the historical and the allegorical and, lacking details of history, am more likely to interpret them as allegorical.

I am not sufficiently versed in the Koran (or the Book of Mormon or other sacred documents) to comment on the educational value of their scriptures. Many years ago I undertook a publication that would include presentations of science to a believer; I ceased after three issues did not find an appreciative audience. Several years later, under the auspices of Mensa, I published a monthly newsletter of religious content and included in the first issues popular Christian songs altered to remove sectarian suggestions; I ceased working with music when I realized no one had responded to that aspect of the newsletter. It will be difficult to select materials from traditional religious sources although the object of meetings is served equally by adoration of and homage to deity, by studies of science and Nature and man's effort to accommodate that Nature, and by instruction in behavior that honors deity or nurtures His creation and that crowning achievement, Man.

I offer two observations from early Christianity:
(1) They tried pooling resources (socialism) and abandoned it.
(2) They did not live in isolated communities but mixed with the general population. (It is instructive that Muslims, when they overran Eastern Asia and Northern Africa, kept to themselves rather than mix with their subjugated peoples, with the result that tribal allegiances still dominate Muslim politics. And I recently learned that a fundamentalist sect of Mormonism has some enclaves that have lived in isolation so long that inbreeding is becoming problematical in that otherwise rare diseases are becoming common there.)

10-28-06: During that semi-alertness preceding waking, I found myself speculating on what spirits do, what activities engage them, in the Spirit Realm. They are, of course, without bodies and therefore without senses of smell, sight, etc., which gives them motivation to wish a round of existence in the Physical Realm. But memory persists even without our physical mechanism for its support, and spirits are consigned -- or privileged, you choose -- to review the chain of consequences growing from specific acts committed during their existence in the Physical Realm. While in the Physical we cannot know what will flow from an act or word or thought, but in the Spirit, because time has passed since that act, it is possible to review the flow of consequences, whether foul or fair, in each life touched by the act or influenced by its consequences. And, after a passage of time, it is possible to review the consequences of the influence on others. As pointed out in Mark Twain's Letters to Earth, your today is based on the summation of (perhaps) trivial earlier occurrences. It will be quite an experience to review the wake of your deeds.

3-5-08: Among activities that ought to be fostered by Rational Theists is education of adults and youngsters alike in various aspects of a social life. If you have examined my essays on drugs and on churches, you have discerned that I feel Rational Theists must be concerned for education in secular matters affecting the welfare of members. I include such things as the human body and its care, sex-related topics, and the drug culture. We should both hold study courses in our facilities and encourage educational efforts in our schools.

6-14-09: I have just become aware of a group in the United Kingdom who describe themselves as Christian Atheists. While they believe in God, they deny, as they say, "fairy tales," and insist mankind must solve its own problems; they recognize the teachings of Jesus as the basis for relationships with God and each other. And they recognize the value of worship and of worshiping together. (My information comes from web site www.bbc.co.uk rather than a site maintained by the Christian Atheists.)

Lest someone attempt to infer any special position I possess in either the Spirit or Physical Realm, let me assert that I am unaware of any privileged relationships. Whatever strengths my presentations hold result from my persistence in pursuing rationality in religious matters.

For discussion of failures and limitations I perceive in today's organized churches, click here.
To view Contents of this web site, click here.

The time is ripe for people of religious or spiritual bent, who are disenchanted with religious traditions not supportable by reason, to step forward and announce their desire to be in touch one with another. I visualize this process:
1) Reflect on deity and His role in our world. Pray for guidance in your role. Encourage others to do the same.
2) Pause daily, perhaps upon awaking and again at 11 a.m., to utter a simple prayer reaffirming your desire to walk with God and asking God to walk with you.
3) Become a part in whatever ways you can, perhaps
a) by offering the web page Rational Theism to family, friends and associates as a partial source for suggestions, or
b) inviting family and friends to join you in a brief ceremony honoring God. (Specific aids are offered;
click here.) Two or more joining with you will have tremendous force in bringing rationality into recognition of and service to God.
c) contributing effort, thought or money to help bring an organized institution into being.

While many of us are short in quantity of service to God, I suspect He cherishes quality more than quantity.

Rational Theism's blog is a meeting place where we can share information and insights on efforts to worship God without the baggage of doctrines that defy reason. To go there click here. (Unhappily I must edit entries there to prevent misuse by the playful or wicked, but I pledge to add -- anonymously if you wish -- dialogue sent to me for the purpose; contact information below.) I will welcome description of your activities in nurturing reason in religious doctrine and practice.

Years ago I edited a monthly publication of religious intent (before the Internet became a factor) and a number of us enjoyed sharing viewpoints It was a highly rewarding activity. I am continually reminded that Christian Fundamentalism, and Christianity in general, is losing its support under the relentless progress of science and the aggressive insistence of Atheists that Nature is godless. There is a compelling and continuing need for reminders that God is still our source and support. We should now be emboldened to strive for camaraderie in making Rational Theism a vibrant community although I decry aggressive effort to persuade someone against his will to examine its tenets.

You may e-mail me by clicking here, or use kenwear@rationallink.org.
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Footnote 1
For comment and suggested topics for discussion, I have accumulated suggestions and present them on another web page. To access that,
click here.

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Footnote 2
In a somewhat extended presentation of many doctrinal ideas, you may compare many aspects of religious and Christian dogma by
clicking here. You may also find a compendium of teachings -- mystical, religious, philosophical and otherwise -- by clicking here.

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Footnote 3
Whatever the strength of your convictions about deity, I have offered a secular version of The Ten Commandments that I feel should be posted in every school classroom in the country. For a discussion of that and a view of several presentations of The Ten Commandments,
click here.

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Footnote 4
A description of that psychic event, the visitation by my dead mother, in embodied in presentation of my religious odyssey. To view that,
click here. I freely admit that event has proved central to the coalescing of many ideas in my mind.

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Footnote 5
While I dislike the thought of giving homosexuality equal concern, I cannot avoid the topic because of the aggressiveness of homosexual's apologists. Because of the design of the male and female bodies, I regard sexual activity between those of like sex to be unnatural. All are God's creatures and share in common needs the church is peculiarly adapted to fill, but sexual activity is and ought to remain a private matter, the subject of education but not observation and enforcement regarding an individual's practices. I fear it would be a mistake to have homosexuals in leadership roles if they have any hint of personal agenda to endorse homosexuality. I am aware that Nature is sometimes capricious in sexual assignment and victims of Nature's caprice should not be denied opportunities to serve their deity although their abnormality may create for them a sex-related agenda that would be inimical to church programs. Legal recognition of civil unions of same-sex couples is a matter of state legislative action, but I would strongly oppose the church's recognizing such a civil union as a natural relationship or qualified to use the term "marriage."

Footnote 6: Suggestions for worship services
I have moved specific suggestions for inclusion in worship services to a separate web page, which will undoubtedly grow in size. To access that
click here.

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