A Faith For Skeptics

Book Review by: John S. Morgan

Who is John Heidt?

John H. Heidt has been an Episcopal Priest for over 40 years. He has taught on the theology faculty at Marquette University and holds degrees from Yale University, Nashota House Seminary, and Oxford University in England, and currently teaches systematic theology at the Anglican School of Theology in Dallas.

You can obtain a copy of John Heidt’s 2004 book, A faith For Skeptics, at Amazon.com at a discounted price.. Father Heidt proudly describes himself as a “Professional Christian” and feels that if one wants to know what Christianity is about, one should consult one who has expert knowledge. He argues that with the heightened awareness of the television evangelical scandals and the notorious child abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church ringing in our ears, Christianity has been the victim of bad press. He argues that corruption in the organized church is evidence that should lead one to the church because Christianity carries a truth that has not been diminished by detractors within. It often stands against what some of its members do and have done on a grand scale.

John tells us that just because something seems familiar because of its omnipresence in our culture one should not merely assume that one knows all about it. John would argue that Atheists and Agnostics have been successfully vocal in turning us away from Christianity because the acceptance of Christian Truth would find them inadequate.

For myself, I think one should always follow truth to every extent possible and let the chips fall as they may; but I well understand that there are those perverse amongst us who would be willing to lie about a Christianity that might find them wanting. But is this not also true of a Martin Luther who felt himself constrained by demands of the belief package of his day and found relief by emphasizing only those passages of Scripture that would make his life easier? Even well meaning individuals sometimes seem to talk beyond one another. My essay Talking Past One Another tries to explore why even individuals of good will seem to often talk past one another.

John Heidt urges a position of “total immersion” in Christianity to test its claims; and I agree that any important subject of investigation deserves complete research and scrutiny..

Father Heidt does not dodge difficult issues. He has little patience with fundamentalism. He is one of the few in a traditionalist-conservative milieu that vocally accepts evolution in its broad sense as a working hypothesis to explain the diversity of life forms on earth and is not afraid to admit that the Bible is sometimes wrong. One could not confuse Canon Heidt with one who subscribes to the Biblical Theory of inerrancy. While this remarkable priest does not seem to understand the theory underlying science in the manner that I do, he nevertheless is knowledgeable on the subject. John is a scholar in the best sense of the word.

It seems to me that belief comes in packages:

  • The idea that the earth was the center of the world and that the sun revolved around the earth was once an essential part of the belief package of Roman Catholics.

  • The take-over of the Baptist Denomination, traded personal interpretation for inerrancy. Biblical inerrancy became a central feature of their belief package.

  • The Roman Catholics during the 50’s in this country often used a catechism that stipulated that an unmarried person who desired to bed an attractive partner was guilty of a mortal sin that doomed one to an eternal hell.

  • At one time a belief package of Christianity included the belief that it was morally wrong to lend money at interest. Any amount of interest. That is what was originally meant by Usury. This was the thesis on which Shakespeare built an entire play.

  • Another Christian denomination will not use an organ during worship - organs are not mentioned in the Bible and hence it is not “safe” to use the organ in worship.

Before deciding to become Christian I think one must attempt to answer two very fundamental questions:

  1. To what extent is belief morally acceptable?

  2. What kind of Authority can be found in the Bible?

I do not think John Heidt has addressed either of these issues as well as he might have. Of course, it is hard to put ones self on the outside and explore every issue that seems a block to the understanding of what it means to be Christian.

The first fundamental question that must be dealt with is the moral acceptability of belief.

My essay The Plausibility of Belief might be helpful in resolving this question.

Tucked into the belief package of the Ancient Aztecs was the concept that it was acceptable to extract the heart of ones fellow humans in order to keep the sun-god making his daily journey across the sky. Are we supposed to admire this expression of belief?

The first question revolves around the content of belief. As I mentioned above, belief seems to come in the plural rather than the singular. It comes in belief packages. Let us assume, for a minute, that a cadre of Christian fundamentalists were in control of the foreign relations section of the White House. Considering the preoccupation with “The Book of Revelations” in fundamentalist circles, would it be a stretch of the imagination that covert advice would be given to allow Israel to expand to her prewar borders - understood as a precondition for the Lord carrying out his “rapture” plans? And plans for a settlement of the Israel-Palestinian issue be scuttled?

To what extent is it moral to delve into the world of "unseen evidences?" If decisions based on a "belief package" seem to be at odds with ones based on rationality, shouldn't the contents of the belief package be reexamined?

We see in the present group of religions, which call themselves Christians, great diversity. Can we assume that the simplest of belief packages CAN be non-destructive? How can the individual be safeguarded, as commitment to other core doctrine emerge? John Heidt likely considers this an important issue. He says, “Behind this certainty lies a benign innocence, yet one that turns deadly in the minds and hands of terrorists or serial murderers.” But he has little guidance to offer us in this vital area of separating the chicken poop from the chicken salad of religion.

I self identify as Christian because of Matthew 22:37-40 where we see Jesus remark: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

In the Old Testament Micah seemed to indicate that true religion was not a complicated endeavor: "And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God," Micah 6:8

In the New Testament Peter seemed to indicate that true religion was not a complicated endeavor: Acts 10:34-35 And Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

My overwhelming visceral identification with the overarching ethic of Jesus gives me a two fold advantage: If I keep my belief package narrow I will not be inadvertently succored into harming my fellow man. Given my training in science, I can, without conflict, lead a life based on evidences.

Other unprovable items in my belief package I hold only tentatively with the simple and honest recognition that there is nothing infallible about me. Humans are very fortunate that the natural world is both consistent an figure-out-able. That is the kind of revelation I appreciate.

Still I must wonder, since the belief packages of Christianity are diverse, how can one protect oneself from latching on to a belief package that is harmful to others. What would Father Heidt caution to keep belief packages from running amuck. Father Heidt does consider this an important question because he says: “Behind this certainty lies a benign innocence, yet one that turns deadly in the minds and hands of terrorists or serial murderers.”

We need to exercise caution. There is one science; there is one mathematics; there are numerous conflicting religions.

One might note that while “belief” is considered a virtue in Christian circles it is considered a vice in the scientific community. In science, a belief or a hypothesis, no matter how attractive or supportive of common sense, is held tentatively and reluctantly pending evidence that refutes it. There is no such reality test in religion. No one comes back from the grave to tell us if God prefers Methodists to Moslems.

The next fundamental question that must be dealt with is that of Authority.

I suggest that there are three possible answers to that question. Concerning the Bible, two of the three are easily to formulate:

  1. The first of these is to assert that the Bible is inerrant. Human authors who were guided by God to avoid error wrote it. The Bible is then a kind of user’s manual for mankind.

    This position is easy to refute. All one needs do is note the many errors of fact, science, and internal contradictions. Here, my page A Chart on how the Four Gospels Differ might help. In spite of numerous examples to the contrary this is a very tenacious, ill founded belief. I do not think a cleric does anyone a favor by letting anyone persist in this misguided, notion.

    Some would be willing to warp mathematics itself than give up this false position.

    If you are having trouble with grade school math, you are not alone. NKJV 2 Chronicles 4:2 says, "Then he made the Sea of cast bronze, ten cubits from one brim to the other; it was completely round. Its height was five cubits, and a line of thirty cubits measured its circumference" 1 Kings 7:23 says nearly the same thing.

    Something described as a circle in shape with a diameter of 10 [in any units such as cubits, inches, etc.] would have a circumference of 31.4 not 30. Even the crudest of approximations would yield 31. That author could not be described as inerrant. The ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is a constant referred to in mathematics as pi.

    This must have been the verse that Dorothy Nelkin refers to in her book "The Creation Controversy," published in 1982, when she said: "Evolution was not their [the Fundamentalists] only target. The revolt against science also included attempts to prescribe by law that pi should be changed from 3.1416 to 3.0000, partly because it was simple to use, partly because the Bible described Solomon's vase as three times as far around as across."

    Pi expressed as a decimal is often rounded to 3.14159 or 3.14 but in actuality the digits after the decimal point never end. Computers have approximated its exact value by figuring out scores of digits following the decimal point.

    Then too, if one were to assume that God wrote an inerrant users manual for mankind, he would also be active in its preservation. Again, such is not the case. The Biblical Gospels that have survived antiquity in manuscript form, when placed side by side, differ remarkably - especially in their Christology. You might want to refer to my Orthodox Corruption of Scripture page.

  2. The second of these is to assert that the Bible represents a very human collection of stories and writings and religious insights by our Jewish ancestors as they sought to live ethically in a very hostile world. These peoples managed to capture the parables and teachings of Jesus. One holding this view of Scripture looks for the argumentation and authority that is inherent in the text. One is not impressed by Solomon’s selection of the correct mother of a child between two competing candidates because God has spoken on the issue, but because of Solomon’s shrewd insight into human nature.

    This position very easy to formulate and explain. It is the one that I subscribe to. These positions are polar opposites. One involves the deity totally; one relies on the authority found in the argumentation, context, and heightened awareness of moral dilemma.

  3. The third approach lies somewhere in the middle. It must be a difficult position to articulate. John does not seem to effectively articulate this position. But there again, I have yet to see anyone effectively articulate this position.

    Sometimes “breathed” is used to explain the position. “God breathed on the authors.” If the Bible is sometimes in error, why would God elect to sometimes convey the truth and at other times falsehoods. How can one extract the truth from a document which is correct in some places and incorrect in others? And particularly incorrect, as preserved, when it comes to matters of Christology?

John Heidt has written: “Re-examine all your attitudes and beliefs.” I wholeheartedly agree with that advice. The reading of his book has given me the opportunity to do just that. I will enumerate each chapter, summarize what are the essential features of each, and comment on each chapter.

Chapter summaries.


01 The Case of The Disappearing Atheists

Traditional Christianity represents an ancient but common body of beliefs. Bad press may have caused one searching for a non-opinionated certainty, and a faith that that can grow by questioning, to overlook Christianity. Seek out the professionals. John Heidt is a believing Christian because the facts of life and common sense compel him to be one.

Atheism is no longer popular but the classical Atheists have sown a chaotic assortment of ideological and political tyrannies. Atheists put their faith in humanity not divinity.

Yes, traditional Christianity represents an ancient but common body of beliefs. I would call that “body of beliefs” a belief package. That package has varied historically; varies a lot with contemporary, self-proclaimed Christians; and even varies within the gospels themselves. The variance of belief within the New Testament accounts for the mutually exclusive positions, and part of the core belief package, of Protestants and Roman Catholics. Today we find elements within the belief package, deemed of salvic importance, not found in the historic creeds of Christianity.

There are some who reject Christianity through apathy of inquiry. John Heidt says, “…that great company of militant atheists …Bertrand Russell.”

Bertrand Russell is a hero of mine. He classified himself as an Agnostic. He said that Christians classify both Atheists and Agnostics in the same category: they are both bad; whereas, Agnostics classify both Atheists and Theists in the same category: they both have a belief.- One believes in God; the other believes there is no God. The Agnostic, like a preponderance of the philosophers of the world, thinks that there is insufficient evidence to adopt a belief.

02 Anonymous Agnostics

The old Atheist denied the existence of God to prove the goodness of man. The modern Agnostics stand on constantly shifting ground but they have made people skeptical of any kind of belief. Their dogmatic doubts have infected the society. This book intends to offer every conceivable reason for believing. Personal conviction needs experience more than rational argumentation.

Agnostics by definition are skeptical. They refuse to accept something on faith for which they do not find plausible reasons. Why would one want to refer to the doubts of another as “dogmatic doubts?” In religion, doubt may be a vice but in science it is a virtue. Any proposal of science is viewed with doubt until it is well verified by factual test.

Who would not advise caution in a tradition that includes the Branch Dividians, the "people's temple" that killed themselves and their children with poison Kool-Aide, and the group that skipped off the planet via suicide to rendezvous with a near-by comet. How many groups have gathered at the mountaintops on appointed days to await the end of the world.

Bertrand Russell told the story of a rector who had been terrifying his parishioners with fears of the immanent second comming until they noticed that he was planting Oak trees in his back yard.

Most of the non-Christians that I know are not non-Christians because they are atheists or merely because they are agnostic. They tend to be turned off because of the inconsistencies that they find in the Biblical narrative, the often-immoral behavior of the god depicted in the Old Testament, and the intolerant way the organized church has treated dissenters. They don't think a person should be under house arrest for holding that the earth revolves about the sun.

Many Atheists may have a belief in mankind’s goodness but they are Atheists because they believe God does not exist. They think they have evidence for their position. A chief moral argument seems to be the one that prompted Mark Twain’s Atheism - that if God were to exist, he wouldn't allow the type of suffering that John Heidt articulates so well: “You glance at the pages of history to see God’s goodness vindicated, and instead you find the twisted bodies of six million of His chosen people massacred in Nazi gas Chambers’ [You] find thousands of children sexually molested and physically tortured by their parents.”

03 Dangerous Dogmas

Everyone must be dogmatic about something else thinking, reasoning, trust and community would be impossible. Justice and mathematics are dogmas. Dogmas are very true basic principles. The goodness of work, thinking, the rightness of freedom, law and democracy, and patriotism are dogmas. They cannot be defended by rational argument alone. Like every other human activity, scientific knowledge rests upon certain basic assumptions, which cannot be proven by reason – they must be accepted dogmatically.

Webster’s dictionary defines a dogma as:

1 a something held as an established opinion esp.: a definite authoritative tenant
b: a code of such tenants
c: a point of view or tenant put fourth as authoritative without adequate grounds

2 a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated Authoritatively stated by a church.

The definition uses the word authority repeatedly. What is the authority that forms the basis of our beliefs or practices? If someone is going to hold something as a dogma, I think one must ask the question about the nature of the authority of the tenant, because, as Father Heidt says, certain doctrines can be harmful: “Behind this certainty lies a benign innocence, yet one that turns deadly in the minds and hands of terrorists or serial murderers.”

What Authority does science basically appeal to? What authority does mathematics appeal to? What authority does religion appeal to?

In both science and mathematics the authority is a methodology.

Mathematics starts with a set of propositions that perhaps might be viewed as true but at least useful. These theorems are manipulated by logical rules to deduce other findings. We usually judge mathematics by its results – its usefulness in uncovering arrangements and patterns. Given the trajectory of the missile, what must be the angle and speed of the intercepting explosive? How far away is the planet Mars?

Science relies simply on a systematic method of inquiry. Science is a method of ordering facts. Science basically seeks to verify assumptions by subjecting theories to a reality test, discarding those that fail.

In both the inductive method of science and the deductive method of mathematics, their usefulness is in providing us with telephones, radios, dating methodology, accurate timepieces, and the like. We could put fourth a lot of philosophical effort in deciding whether mathematics and science are “true.” But the world is basically concerned with the results of mathematics and science. Is your TV set true? A lot of science and mathematics made it possible. The results are so astounding and the methodology is so simple that mathematics and science have been accepted all around the world.

While the world has many religions, there seems to be one scientific method and one mathematics, which the world has signed on to because of the obvious validity of their results.

In the concepts of science and mathematics dogma plays no role. One can, however, be dogmatic about science when one accepts a conclusion that science has arrived at without examining the evidences that led to the conclusion. I don't think one is dogmatic in affirming the existence of Television sets. Watching programs on them would seem to be overwhelming evidence.

Although I prefer not to associate the word dogma with either science or mathematics, in Father Heidt’s mind, the effectiveness that the individual sees in the results of science and mathematics gives such a confidence in the truth of their methodology that it borders on certainty and hence he would pronounce a dogma.

The authority that underlies confidence in science and math is a methodology.

On the other hand, the authority on which religion relies is usually a text that has captured what some authoritative person or persons said. And unlike science, in religion there is no reality test – no one returns from the grave to tell us if God prefers Muslims over Methodists. These reasons are why we have one science and one mathematics affirmed around the globe but many competing religions.

Fortunately scientific knowledge does not rest upon basic assumptions. That we can figure out the physical world may have started as an assumption but it has been amply verified. Dogma is anathema to science.

I agree with John Heidt when he says, “Dogmatism, nevertheless, can be dangerous. Dogmas should be tested.”

I cannot agree with him when he says, “To secure the peace, every society must burn its heretics either literally or symbolically.”

04 A Faith For Skeptics

A new dogmatism has replaced healthy skepticism. Faith in scientific reason has turned into an unscientific dogmatism. We can be certain about the reality of God because God is reality itself. To be dogmatic about the reality of God is simply to be dogmatic about reality itself. Belief in God forms a place to stand and forms the basis of discernment in general.

Defining God as reality is an assertion not a demonstrable fact. The assertion does not prove God’s existence. Acceptance of the scientific methodology does not preclude belief in God. I accept scientific methodology but I also believe in God.

Belief in scientific reason can turned into an unscientific dogmatism. But only by those who approach science as a 'belief package' rather than a method. They are placing their confidence in the assumption that the "science" has been accumulated through the correct application of science's methodology.

I tend to think of Dogma as a “religious belief or requirement” that was crystallized in the first three centuries of the Common Era by the emerging Christian Orthodoxy.

An example might be the Trinity, which is mentioned only once in the New Testament of Matthew in his great commission and here no definition is given. We see Luke in his gospel and in Acts talking frequently about the “Spirit.” In John we find Jesus meditating endlessly about his relationship with his father. In neither of these works do we find mention of coeval persons of God incorporated in a Trinity. Today it is described as a “core issue” of the faith, and since correct thought is especially important in most variations of Christianity, I wonder why it is so important that belief in Trinity is required for today’s Christians when the Christians of yore - Paul, the Apostles, and the evangelists new nothing of Trinity.

The “atonement” seems to be another doctrine worked out over the early centuries to explain the “why” of the death of Jesus and to explain a rationale for Paul’s “Christ died for your sins.” Apparently the idea that Jesus may have incurred enemies while disrupting temple worship or a risk of death might be a brave end to someone who preached a vision of how life ought to be lived and refused to be silent when in peril appeared insufficient to some theorists. Eventually, at Augustine’s insistence, an idea emerged that the creator was so “offended” by sin that the sacrifice of his son was required as expiation. Apparently no one thought that God by his own fiat might invite those to his heavenly banquet whom he finds worthy, sending those whose company he might find unpleasant into sweet oblivion.

It would seem to me that the sum of two evils is not zero. The sin of mankind would seem to be added to the cruel mistreatment of Jesus to yield two wrongs rather than the one balancing the other. The atonement seems to be an assertion rather than something makes intrinsic sense.

One of the essays in my page Dialogue Within The Trinity page deals with this question in a humorous manner.

Science and mathematics have nothing to do with dogma.

05 The Power of the Gods

Innumerable forces impinging upon our lives the ancient pagans called gods. These forces are often hostile and we can't control them. We attempt control by secularizing the sacred. Pets and people are unable to pierce the heart of our profound loneliness. We have a desire to be completely understood and supported.

Science cannot answer all questions but it does give us, albeit in small measure, a place to stand. When one understands the electrical nature of lightning and how electricity works, one no longer thinks it appropriate to worship Lightning as a god. One does not find any meteorologist attempting to appease the storm god. Knowledge is helpful in giving one a place to stand.

06 War Without End

Before we reached adolescence we developed techniques for keeping the hostile gods at bay. Our battle with a hostile world is everlasting. Relief only comes in those rare moments when we are free to indulge in daydreams uninterrupted where in dreams of glory we ourselves become the gods of this world and the awesome and fearful forces which assail us become docile slaves forced to do our bidding.

The early Fathers of the Christian Church reduced the ancient gods to impotent demons, but the Victorians turned them into impersonal objects and mere physical forces. Lightning was no longer king of the gods but only lightning. Stars became chunks of matter to be understood and controlled by matter. In destroying the gods mankind ended up destroying the godlike character of themselves.

“The gods still reign supreme and the world remains our potential enemy, no matter how much we may try to tame it. If through our economic greed, we destroy all the trees of the Amazon Forest, the tree gods themselves will have their revenge by destroying the whole ecological balance of the planet.”

If anything will destroy us it will be overpopulation and its in the nature of religion to thwart any attempts at population restraint. In a sense our world is hostile from the point of view of the individual. Hurricanes can destroy houses. Mother is not always as forthcoming with milk as the baby would desire.

Education is a good way to understand the machinations of the physical world and gives us some insight as to how we can attempt to exert some control over our environment. Most of this success has come about because science has replaced myth with fact.

I would be less anthropomorphic in my description of the loss of the Amazon Forest. I would say that too many people do not care to understand how important the survival of the Forest is too their own survival. The idea of ecological balance is a fruit of science not a revelation of religion. I agree with Canon Heidt when he says human greed plays a role. The real threat to the Amazon Forest in particular and to ecological balance in general is human overpopulation. Religion offers no solution to this problem. As I say in my essay, What I Believe:

Sometimes I have a vision of Jesus as the Christ returning to the planet seated upon a cloud. As he approaches he sees humankind standing shoulder to shoulder across the entire land-yelling Hosanna! He inquires to the Archangel on his left, "Where are my animals, my fields of grain, my forests?" "Gone." "All gone - there is room for nothing but the food in the oceans, replies the archangel, "They were fruitful and multiplied!" "Don't these people know when enough is enough!" asks the Christ. Then he adds ironically, "It was the only commandment they ever paid any attention to."


07 Born to Be Jews

We must arise above the pressures and forces of the ancient gods competing for our allegiance to avoid spiritual death. We must find a place to stand in the shifting sand of our inner turmoil. To find peace we must find a god who cares for us but how to choose among the vendors promoting their spiritual wares. World religions differ only in the techniques for escaping from life’s chaos, pain, and turmoil.

Should we accept a place to stand when enduring the shifting sand of our inner turmoil? Surely at such a time we are most vulnerable to any huckster who might say: "I have all the answers to life beyond the grave. Would you rather spend forever in bliss or torture? All you need do is believe me. Leave your rational mind at home."

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam offer a caring God. Peace is to be found in obeying the will of the true God. He is not a god of arbitrary whim but knows his own mind. The Jews believed God was a God who had built order into the universe. Jews found God in the dependability of cause and effect. Laws of God ran the Universe. By consciously accepting the God of the Jews in which you were raised you might discover inner peace regardless of any tragedy. This Jewish understanding of God has permeated our culture. Before we believe in the God of the Jews we must have some firm evidence he exists.

Peace is not to be found in the competing certainties of dogmatic religions. The Zionists are willing to dogmatically assert that the whole of Palestine is their land because God gave it to them. The other side does not accept this contention. Each side is obeying the will of the true God as they see it.

Their inability to hold religious doctrine tentatively has become a problem for everyone on the planet.

08 Public Revelations

An Old Testament Jew would say God told the Jews about himself. The autobiography of our friends gives our only insight into their real character and personality. We learn of God by hearing the stories. The Jews hammered out on the anvil of their common experience a new unique insight into the mystery of divinity. They took it God was interested in them because they won victories from the nations surrounding them. God revealed his law making it possible to know what to do. Only you can put your faith in a personal God.

One does not have to read very far into the old testament to recognize that God, as described there is rather harsh and exhibits characteristics that most people would not consider moral if attributed to anyone else.

The Jews perceived that God had given them a promised land. The land was already occupied by others who had no such diving revelation and were living with the deluded idea that it belonged to them. The people of the book had to fight the land owners for the property.

We learn of the Jews concept of God by hearing their stories from Scripture.

They took it God was interested in them because they won victories from the nations surrounding them. Everybody thanks the gods for their victories in whatever.

09 Pain and Grief

God seems to allow great human suffering. The dilemma: How can we believe in a God who has either no conscience when it comes to evil or is too weak to obey what little conscience he has? It is because our pain and grief reflect something of the goodness of God that people treat martyrs as saints and think it is a good and holy thing to suffer for the sake of others. Far from being necessarily evil in itself, our suffering allows us to be more like God. Unaware of anguish one would know nothing of caring for others nor ever share their loves and joys. Learning of sacrificial love will allow one to come to grips with suffering and grief and find the key for solving the problem of evil.

This is from Memory of Fire: Volume III, Century of the Wind, by Dado Galeano, tr. Cedric Balfrage, Pantheon, 1988.

"ARCHBISHOP Romero offers her a chair. Marianela prefers to talk standing up. She always comes for others, but this time Marianela comes for herself. Marianela Garda Vilas, attorney for the tortured and disappeared of EI Sal-vador, does not come this time to ask the archbishop's solidarity with one of the victims of D' Aubuisson, Captain Torch, who burns your body with a blowtorch, or of some other military horror specialist. Marianela doesn't come to ask help for anyone else's investigation or denunciation. This time she has something personal to say to him. As mildly as she can, she tells him that the police have kid-napped her, bound, beat, humiliated, stripped her-and that they raped her. She tells it without tears or agitation, with her usual calm, but Archbishop Romero has never before heard in Marianela's voice these vibrations of hatred, echoes of disgust, calls for vengeance. When Marianela finishes, the archbishop, astounded, falls silent too.

"After a long silence, he begins to tell her that the church does not hate or have enemies, that every infamy and every action against God forms part of a divine order, that criminals are also our brothers and must be prayed for, that one must forgive one's persecutors, one must accept pain, one must. . . Suddenly, Archbishop Romero stops. "He lowers his glance, buries his head in his hands. He shakes his head, denying it all, and says: 'No, I don't want to know.' " '1 don't want to know,' he says, and his voice cracks.

"Archbishop Romero, who always gives advice and comfort, is weeping like a child without mother or home. Archbishop Romero, who always gives assurances, the tranquilizing assurance of a neutral God who knows all and embraces all-Archbishop Romero doubts.

"Romero weeps and doubts and Marianela strokes his head."

John's chapter on "Pain and Grief" offers a comprehensive theory of human suffering that should not be discounted without serious reflection.

10 All You Need is Love

The world is full of sacrifice. The death of a lamb makes our dinner. Imagine the thrill of being chosen as one of your tribe’s annual sacrifices. There is a satisfaction in giving away a chocolate bar to a friend. Sacrificial love seems natural being a product of caring parents. Done willingly a mother’s sacrifice gives her strength and creative energy to grow spiritually and creatively. The Death of martyrs is not a defeat but the very food of the church. Without God, personal sacrifice is a waste of time. In order to believe that God is love one needs to see how his love overcomes the meaningless death of countless sacrificial victims. One needs to test the doctrine of love for ones self.

When a lamb was said to be offered in “sacrifice,” the real hardship or “sacrifice” was the money used to purchase the animal or the loss of economic value when the animal was surrendered. Eventually the slaughter of the animal was deemed “sacrifice.” The two concepts must remain separate in our minds. Slaughter and sacrifice are different concepts.

There may have been a thrill for being chosen as one of your tribe’s annual sacrifices but Aztec lore not withstanding, “offering” blood to the sun god was not necessary in maintaining the ability of the sun to rise and set. Such is an example of a misplaced belief. And, yes, the mentality allowing one to hold such a belief is diminished now that scientific understanding has given us a better appreciation of the nature of the sun, what it is made of, and how the earth is one of many planets that revolve around the sun.

In yesteryear, Copernicus was put under house arrest because Christians had interpreted their bibles to believe that the sun revolved around the earth. Centuries later the Pope apologized; will it be a few more centuries before he apologizes for the treatment of his homosexual brethren? As part of a new creation shouldn't Christians be more discerning, wiser, or understanding? Why is it that when their leader holds divorce in such destain that they share the same divorce statistics with nonbelievers?

11 At The Name of Jesus

When our culture curses they use Jesus’ name. Christians have claimed that their founder was also their divine creator and savior. Jesus was put to death because he talked an acted like God. The Jews were not gullible people. They expected God to send someone who would deliver them from Roman oppression. God came to earth to save them from the tyranny of their own selfishness. People were amazed at the healing miracles of Jesus. Most Jews could not accept Jesus and cried out; “We have no king but Caesar.” The crucifixion represents sacrificial love.

The Jews were much closer to the times and culture of Jesus. Why should one be second-guessing their decision from afar? If one should listen to the Jews because they had good discernment in accepting Jehovah as God, then why should one not be equally impressed with the discernment of the Jews when they decided that Jesus was not the messiah?

12 God in the Flesh

One gets a mixed impression of Jesus from the common culture so read the Gospels. One will see the healing of the sick, the driving out of demons, healing of the sick, and compassion for the poor. He did things appropriate for a God – walked on water, calmed the storm, and told people their sins were forgiven. He was executed as a traitor. In the cross you may see suffering and death sharing in the explosive energy of divine love.

One gets a mixed impression of Jesus from reading the Gospels. One will indeed see the healing of the sick, the driving out of demons, healing of the sick, and compassion for the poor as we examine Scripture. But these are limited to the synoptic gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke. In these gospels Jesus teaches in parables. Jesus performs exorcisms. Jesus associates with outcasts and has little to say about himself. But in John’s gospel we find a different Jesus. One finds a Jesus who does not teach in parables, does not perform exorcisms, does not associate with outcasts. Jesus constantly talks about himself, his relation with the father and his mission.

Jesus walked on water, calmed the storm, and told people their sins were forgiven. But as recorded in Matthew, he did not understand what Christians understand as the full scope of his mission. In Matthew 15:24 we find: “He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’" Luke and Matthew record a miraculous birth and conception of Jesus but Mark in 3:21 suggests that his family did not realize that he was on a heavenly mission: “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."

13 Jesus’ Uprising

He had the marks of his crucifixion but could suddenly appear in a room; often his closest friends failed to recognize him. Jesus rose from the grave. “When we evolved from lower forms of animal life and then domesticated some of the animals from which we evolved, we turned life on our planet upside down and perhaps changed the future development of the entire universe.” Now Jesus completes this transformation – a new heaven and a new earth is in the making. Jesus gave us the holy Spirit after his resurrection.

I am intrigued by this idea of a new heaven and a new earth is in the making. I have not seen evidences about my fellow Christians that they are kinder or in any way superior to their non-Christian counterparts. They share the same divorce statistics with everyone else. The largest denomination in the Protestant church is ignorant enough and gullible enough to fall for the theory of Biblical inerrancy.

14 Cosmic Revolutions

There are many sudden jumps in the evolutionary process that cannot be explained by gradual development. Humans were unexpected. Suddenly one of the animals knows what he knows. He can form sentences and think; he lives more by understanding than instinct. In Jesus’ resurrection we seem to be witnessing an even more dramatic mutation of earthly life. The resurrected Jesus shows us that our dreams of glory can come true. Eventually will come a new heaven and a new earth.

In this chapter, John Heidt demonstrates that he will have no truck with the proponents of Creationism. Unfortunately, the percentages of American Christians who manage to tuck Creationism into their belief package is enormous. They also find it necessary to propagate their view.


15 The Invisible Man

One can't see God. That is why Jesus came to earth. Where is Jesus today? We believe in lots of things we can't see like the wind. The Christian faith is not blind. What are the evidences? The Bible; the Church; Transformed lives. You may not like all your Christian friends but you don't know how they were before you knew them. A real Christian has a faith anchored in a hope that more and more expresses itself in sacrificial love.

Paul described Jesus as the image of the living God. And since the very idea of God is abstract it is most useful to emulate one who has lived a life that we mortals consider to represent how God would behaved had he walked the planet.

In this chapter , John Heidt says: “You will have heard just enough about biblical critics and certain scholarly bishops to believe that the Bible is quite incapable of proving anything.” In chapter eleven Father Heidt says: “I am a professional Christian, a Christian priest and parish pastor, and I am supposed to know what I am talking about.

Aren't scholarly bishops professional Christians too? Are they not supposed to know what they are talking about?

What can be said about the Bible as evidence? To begin with, it was a long time after Jesus died before any part of the New Testament was written and a much longer time before the Gospels were written. Since the New Testament was written centuries before the invention of the printing press it had to be hand copied. The nature of hand copying inherently introduces errors.

In the early years copyists tended to be amateurs. None of the copies we have of the Bible are originals. None of the manuscripts we have are copies of copies of the original. Not even copies of copies of copies of the originals. None of the copies that we do have, except for the earliest fragments, is identical to any of the others. There are more differences among the copies than there are words in the New Testament. The most common errors were misspelled words. Sometimes lines and paragraphs were double copied or omitted. These were the innocent kinds of errors one would expect in a copying process. But sometimes phrases or paragraphs were altered, added or omitted.

Scholars must use their best educated guess when producing an edition of the Bible because of the incredibly large number of variants in the manuscripts that have survived the ravages of time. They must take into consideration, the best attested, the earliest and best manuscripts, and quotes of the early church fathers about specific verses.

A book entitled The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, The Effect of Early Chronological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, was published in 1993 by Bart D. Ehrmann. In his book he makes the case "how proto-orthodox scribes of the second and third centuries modified their texts of scripture to make them conform more closely with their own christological beliefs, effecting thereby the 'orthodox corruption of Scripture'"

He demonstrates scores and scores of instances where these scribes modified texts to defend the proto-orthodox church against Adoptionist, Separatist, and Docetist positions. Some copies of the Bible have been “corrected” as a result of forgeries. The greater part of the last chapter of Mark seems to be a forgery. The writings of Paul were written much earlier but Paul rarely quotes Jesus. He seems to have his own theology.

There appears to be a good deal of theological disparity among the authors of the Gospels. It would almost seem that they were talking bout a different Jesus. In the synoptic gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, Jesus teaches in parables, performs exorcisms, and associates with outcasts. Jesus has little to say about himself. But in the gospel of John, Jesus does not teach in parables, he does not perform exorcisms; he does not associate with outcasts, and constantly talks about himself, his relation with the father and his mission. Matthew assures us that the exclusive criterion for personal salvation is how one cares for the poor and needy. John says it is faith in the resurrection of Jesus.

16 Signs of His Presence

The energy and faith of Christians is the energy of Jesus working in them. The hierarchy of the church has often been corrupt but its extremely high standards are evidence for its divine origin. The Bible, although containing errors, is a set of inspired writings chosen by an inspired culture. The Bible lets one discern the actions of God within the lives of his chosen people.

In Deuteronomy, in what has been excerpted and called the ten commandments, we read: Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's.

What kind of "inspired" culture leaves the clear impression that covetness is a male vice – no mention that a female might harbor lust for her neighbor’s husband.

Does the treatment of women as if they were insignificant, represent inspired writing chosen by an inspired culture?

17 The Return of the Gods

Christianity is a unique revelation. The Christian faith has not been discovered or invented, but revealed. There is also good in other cultures and beliefs.

Christianity is a revelation by an assortment of unique authors of their take on the question: “Who do you say that I am?” Mark thought Jesus had been adopted as messiah at his baptism. John thought that Jesus, although a subordinate figure to his father, God, had eternally preexisted. For Paul, Jesus represented the human image of God.

Paul was convinced that personal salvation was achieved by belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Matthew asserts that the only criterion for personal salvation is how one has treated the poor and needy. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that personal salvation is achieved by being free of Mortal Sin at the moment of death.

If Christianity is a “unique” revelation, why do I find these disparities?

Mark and Luke were convinced that divorce was never to be permitted. Matthew asserts that one can divorce in cases of adultery.

Which author was correct?
How can I tell?

Christianity is also a belief package whose content is not monolithic today and historically. Although there is not any Biblical mention of the Trinity by anyone other than Matthew, it appears to be an essential item in the contemporary belief package of Christians. I, myself, am comfortable in worshiping God as Trinity, but I wonder why would something unknown to all the Biblical authors except one be an essential component of the belief package of so many contemporary Christians?

There is widespread disagreement of what should be in today’s faith package. With some a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible is required. With some, in contradistinction to church promulgations of an earlier age, abortion is considered murder. (My essay A Novel Perspective on Abortion addresses the historicity of the question and might prove helpful.) The requirement that one should not lend money at any interest is not generally a part of a contemporary Christian’s belief package. It once was.

For Anglicans, opposition to Birth Control was a part of the belief package. The bishops of their Lambeth Conference of 1908 resoundingly condemned birth control, urging prelates to use the whole force of their Christian character in opposing it. Since the average number of off springs for Bishops in the Episcopal Church does not exceed four, one can be rather confident that opposition to birth control is not firmly a part of the faith package for all Episcopal bishops. Nine offspring is more common among my Roman Catholic relatives who do not practice birth control.

18 Beyond Belief

An understanding of heresy is the key to allow one to hold fast to traditional Christian Beliefs and yet live in peace with those with whom one disagrees. Heresies are beliefs that are not right enough. They make us face up to our limitations and they force one to appreciate the insights of others. True belief must accommodate the wholeness of reality.

In Matthew chapter 15 in verses 22 through 24 we have this interchange:
22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Is it to be understood that God did not understand the extent of his mission or was the passage incorrectly reported? Is this a traditional belief that one should want to hold on to?

In Matthew chapter 4 in verses 1 through 3 we see this interchange:
1 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.

Isn’t this a bogus temptation? Is it to be understood that the God of the Universe couldn't get food delivered to him if he needed it or was the passage incorrectly reported?

Again, in Matthew chapter 4 in verses 8 and 9 we see this interchange:
8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.

Isn't trying to tempt God with earthly kingdoms (which are presumably his property anyway) like trying to bribe your congressman with a dollar bill? Isn't this a bogus temptation? Since "Heresies are beliefs that are not right enough," is it to be really understood that the God of the Universe couldn't assume control of all the kingdoms in Milky Way Galaxies without asking the devil’s permission? I am pleased that "beliefs that are not right enough" "force one to appreciate the insights of others." Is it a right enough belief to assume that these stories represent real temptations to God in human form?

Isn't the real moral here that we should have some basis for whatever we believe. "Heresies are beliefs that are not right enough. They make us face up to our limitations and they force one to appreciate the insights of others." After all others can sometimes be right.

19 A True Beginning

John Heidt has tried to help his readers see that it is all right to believe. Everyone starts out on his or her spiritual journey asking one question at a time. Test the Christian faith by your own individual experience. One must walk with those who already believe. Life in the church will make one become as a god, and that human desire to be divine – instead of ending in sin and death – leads to a new power in the resurrected Christ.

In Matthew chapter 24 verse 28 we have this statement by Jesus:

28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

Are we to assume that Jesus was wrong about asserting that the coming of the kingdom would occur in that generation or was the passage incorrectly reported?

Did Jesus really believe that the end of the world would come before his generation passed away? Didn't Paul and the other Apostles get this idea from somewhere? Is it now not obvious why John Heidt does not think that the Bible is always correct? Test the Christian faith by your own individual experience. Carefully measure the belief tucked into your emerging belief package.

20 Where do You Go from Here?

No longer able to be plunged into a new way of life through some dramatic rite of initiation, like the early Christians, it never occurs to most people that baptism makes them members of some kind of Spirit-filled community, any more than going to a theater makes them members of a theater community.

“His Holy Spirit is available to every-one, so that we can all have certainty of faith which, when reason operates solely on its own, forever remains an insubstantial hope.”

“Persevere in your search for faith, but always with the hope that the time will come when you can commit yourself totally to the God of the ancient Jews, fully revealed in the living Christ by the Holy Spirit working in you.”

Indeed a more dramatic presentation would be useful in facilitating the acceptance of a belief package.

My question remains. what exactly should be the content of the Christian belief package?

I am concerned about the question because as John Heidt says: “Behind this certainty lies a benign innocence, yet one that turns deadly in the minds and hands of terrorists or serial murderers.”

What are the criteria for placing an item in the package? What assurance do we have that some of these belief packages are not harmful to our society and/or to our neighbors? What kind of criteria should be used to differentiate between a good and a bad Christian Belief package?

I find the overarching themes of scripture informative. I find a personal resonance with the perspective of Jesus when he says: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

He tells us that the whole purpose and intent of the law and the prophets was to bring this about. This not only furnishes me a lens through which I can read Scripture but “A place to Stand." To me it seems profoundly true. As John Heidt has so eloquently said, it is more our experiences in life than our reason that informs our behaviors.

This simple yet powerful all encompassing principle is one that I readily tuck into my belief package. It is an absolute. For me it excludes any item that might, through inadvertent acceptance of its consequences, be of harm to my neighbor. To me the phrase, “with your whole mind” means what it says: without the pursuit of knowledge and an informed understanding, I cannot be of service to my God. This is the bedrock of my Christian conviction and understanding. All else is tentative.


John Heidt has been listed on their web page as “Canon Theologian” for the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth in Texas until recently. John’s book was also available there for purchase.

If the Diocese of Dallas is somewhat outside of the mainstream as a diocese in the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Fort Worth might be said to be reactionary with its central focus on opposition to women priests.

The first bishop Of Fort Worth decided to make the diocese a safe place for priests who were opposed to the ordination of women. Upon his retirement this first bishop became “presiding bishop” of another denomination. The diocese’s second bishop became a Roman Catholic for a period of time after his retirement. The third and present bishop seems to associate himself with any dissident group outside of the National Episcopal Church that is opposed to its principles and practice. The diocese is one of the very few in the Episcopal Church that will not accept the validity of women priests. Not a very promising track record for an Episcopal Diocese.


Thank you for your lengthy and thoughtful review of "A Faith For Skeptics."

I think we differ particularly in my use of "dogma." I have used the word to describe first principles or assumptions, often unconsciously held, rather than just articulated first principles. In this sense I would say that you and I differ in our assessment of Fort Worth Diocese because of our different "dogmatic" approach to what is going on in the Episcopal Church.

Yours with appreciation,

The Rev'd Canon John Heidt, D.Phil. (Oxon)
Canon Theologian to the Bishop of Fort Worth

Author of A Faith For Skeptics for only $11.95 Purchase through your local bookstore or order from the author: canonjohnheidt@sbcglobal.net.

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