By At the Threshold 

The church is concerned with the way in which human beings relate to God, but this relationship is contingent on how people relate to each other, to their communities, and to the world. The Christian imperative to reform the church is a concomitant demand that the church reform society.

Last week, the Supreme Court issued a decision not to decide. The court refused to consider the constitutionality of laws that require each citizen to present proof of identity, an ID, in order to vote. The stated reason was that a decision at this time might cause confusion in the elections that are about to be held. In fact, the “non-decision” is as decisive as it is confounding; the choice to ignore constitutional questions establishes law in this election, and for the foreseeable future. In a bigger picture, it is simply the last move in a pattern of actions taken to roll back the “one person, one vote” decision of the Supreme Court in 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We will examine this pattern in a series of presentations, even if only in a survey. Seeing it, and understanding it, is of first order importance.
 
We are offering a short series of presentations, but it is a series that begs interactive dialogue between the readers of At the Threshold. Americans, and in particular those who grasp the connection between seeking the common good and seeking God’s will for human society, need to think together about the subject being raised, perhaps especially in this season of election campaigning. Please ask questions, make comments and argue for your views by responding here. We will publish your thoughts (with your permission) in a future AtT email. You can also share your opinion on the At the Threshold Facebook page.
 
This serial presentation is predicated on two dynamics that are in play within American historical experience. They are common to all political systems, wherever and of whatever form, but in the special American experience of creating and establishing a new form of republican government they take particular paths.
 
One dynamic is the general and ongoing struggle for domination of governance by one of the three general spheres of society, over against the other two: the polis, the techno-economic, and the cultural. The techno-economic realm has risen to predominance, focused on and driven by business and finance. If it gains sufficient control this would be termed a plutocracy.
 
The second dynamic, which is the first we will examine, is being worked out in the long American struggle for the right, and the actual opportunity, to vote by all adult American citizens without regard to class, privilege, wealth, power, belief, race, sex, or any other generalized category. This has taken place at the opposition of a significant portion of the citizenry – at every stage of American history – who sincerely and passionately believe that a certain order of elite should have more say in governance than the whole population – more than “the people,” acting through representatives. The age of patriarchs, kings and domination of the “high-born” has come to its end. But the belief in rule by an innately superior elite has not abated, and it has long been upheld by denying the vote to “others,”  those who are not insiders, those who are not “in the know,” those who are not considered “stakeholders.” What were those who believe in government by the elite to do once everyone could vote due to acts of law?
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By Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg

My previous article highlighted and critiqued the “payment” understanding of Jesus’s death, the notion that he died to pay for our sins. Some responses defended that understanding by referring to the role of animal sacrifice in Judaism prior to and in the time of Jesus. And at least one represented that practice accurately. 

Yes, animals were sacrificed in the temple. But sacrifice in Judaism was not about payment for sin. Its root meaning is “a gift to God,” and it almost always involved a meal as well. Some of the sacrificed animal as gift to God went up to God in smoke. The rest was most often eaten by those offering the sacrifice. Sacrifice was about gift to God and sharing a meal with God.
 
Sacrifices served a number of purposes: thanksgiving, petition, purification, and reconciliation. But they were not about “payment.” Even sacrifices of reconciliation when there was a sense of having wronged God were not about payment — as if God demanded the death of the human wrong-doers, but was willing to punish a lamb or goat or calf or ox instead. Rather, sacrifices of reconciliation were about restoring the relationship. So it is with us to this day: when we have offended somebody, we often “make up” with a gift and meal, flowers and dinner. But none of this is about payment or substitution or satisfaction.
 
I grant that there are multiple understandings of the significance of Jesus’s death, beginning with the New Testament itself. One respondent referred to eight. I do not disagree. But I think it is pedagogically helpful to reduce them to three.

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This is the third of a three-part series that examines a pressing example of the use of religion for violent purposes. This is a problem that exists within the dynamic of religion itself — the desire to defeat evil as the believer sees it. AtT, as an organization dedicated to reform of the Christian Church, has two purposes in offering this three-part series: first, to recognize the danger inherent in religion as something terribly good that can become unspeakably bad when it goes wrong; second: to understand ISIL and thus to expose the difference between an aberrant religious view within Islam and the greatness inherent in the orthodox Muslim faith.

By Joe Morris Doss

The questions become (a) What has been changed in the history we have been examining? (b) What does history tell us about facing the new threat? (c) What should be changed, especially in terms of the need for religious reform? 

By the turn into the 19th century the Ottomans were fed up and began to overpower the first Saudi state. In 1818 they succeeded in finishing the job. The few remaining Wahhabis withdrew into the desert to regroup, and there they remained for most of the 19th century. 

Then, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed amongst the chaos of World War I, wahhabism roared back into life. By this time, the Saudi King, Abd-al Aziz, realized that the new state had to fit within the newly formed community of nations. He channeled the original wahhabist impulses away from revolutionary violence, and began to spread a different sort of revolution throughout the Muslim world: wahhabist doctrine and the cultural realities demanded by it. If this form of revolution lacked violence its radical and oppressive doctrines remain unacceptable to westerners, religious and humanitarian.
 
Even so, the west has largely turned their eyes away from humanitarian violations within Saudi Arabia because of the cooperation these nations have received in matters considered more pressing. By way of important examples, we may begin with the way vast oil resources have been employed to sufficiently satisfy the west, the cold war help against the Soviet Union, communism, and socialism, the enmity with Iran since the mid 70s, and the way to neutralize some opposition to Israel. Such cooperation has driven the United States to rely on Saudi Arabia as a helpful, if complicated, ally within the Arabic world. Read More…


This is the second of a three-part series that examines a pressing example of the use of religion for violent purposes. This is a problem that exists within the dynamic of religion itself — the desire to defeat evil as the believer sees it. AtT, as an organization dedicated to reform of the Christian Church, has two purposes in offering this three-part series: first, to recognize the danger inherent in religion as something terribly good that can become unspeakably bad when it goes wrong; second: to understand ISIL and thus to expose the difference between an aberrant religious view within Islam and the greatness inherent in the orthodox Muslim faith. 

By Joe Morris Doss
 
Muhammad bin Saud was a minor leader among the continually sparring and raiding Bedouin tribes of the poverty stricken and baking Nejd deserts. But in 1744 he and Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab formed an alliance that emerged to become the first Saudi state. By offering a clearly defined religious mission, the alliance provided the ideological impetus for Saudi expansion. In short order, the combination was successful in conquering large sections of the Arabian Peninsula and establishing an absolutist rule. Then, the forces of the Saud soon expanded and conquered the entire area, becoming Saudi Arabia — largely as it is geographically defined today. They eradicated various popular Sunni practices; the Shia disappeared. Read More…