According to the World Health Organization the main causes of maternal deaths are these:

-severe bleeding (mostly bleeding after childbirth)
-infections (usually after childbirth)
-high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia)
-complications from delivery
-unsafe abortion.

And the factors preventing women all over the world from getting care during pregnancy and childbirth are:

-lack of information
-inadequate services
-cultural practices.

Now, consider the legislative focus of the “pro-life” Republican Party in Texas. They have made it more difficult for women to get reproductive health care by introducing the very factors that threaten the lives of women in other parts of the world.

Their draconian restrictions and funding cuts have closed over 50 women’s health care clinics in Texas. What isn’t often reported is that none of the Texas clinics forced to close actually provided abortions. Instead, the “pro-life” movement has cut off access to contraception, cancer screening and preventative care for many women in Texas.

When 300 Texas women with unwanted pregnancies were asked why they had not used contraception they listed “cost, lack of insurance, inability to find a clinic or inability to find a prescription.” In other words, for all intents and purposes, these Texas women might as well have been living in an impoverished nation.

If you are one of those who believes in forcing anti-choice laws on others, consider the following: According to the CIA World Fact Book, between 1990 and 2013 the global maternal mortality rate declined by 45%. Meanwhile, here in Texas, governed by “pro-life” Republicans, maternal mortality rates have risen- some claim they have quadrupled in the last 15 years.

We can argue about what those statistics mean, but this much is clear- forcing women into giving childbirth is also forcing them to take a greater risk than terminating a pregnancy under medically safe conditions.

I am sure most people working against safe and legal abortion are sincere and do not mean to endanger women, but when we force others to take a risk, it is an act of violence- even if we do so because we are “pro-life.”

Simple answers in a complicated world can kill.


When Jesus spoke of “truth” I do not believe he could have been referring to the Bible nor to the creeds of the church because these had yet to be written. I believe that Jesus, like the Buddha, was calling us into a deeper sense of reality. Those who reduce religion to a system of belief are sometimes escaping from the real relationships into which they are actually being called.


Piety can be the perfect mask for bullying. The bible can be memorized for use as a social crowbar and, sometimes, the phrase “I’ll pray for you” is little more than the dagger of shame draped in liturgical velvet.

Oh dear

Oh dear, Rick Perry is running for president again.

And he’s made himself over yet again. This time he’s running as a “bridge builder.” He wants to reach across partisan politics and bring us all together. So if women can just get past their obsession with being responsible for their own bodies, if GLBTQ people can get over their selfish desire for equal rights, if workers can get past petty issues like not dying on the job, if teachers will quit trying to sneak science into textbooks, and if environmentalists will just look past their pipe dreams of having a habitable planet- then we can all get along.

Honestly, if Rick Perry ever gets tired of politics he has a great career in stand up comedy.

Learning about Christianity through a world of religion


By Jim Rigby – Special to the American-Statesman / January 3, 2015

I was born into a pretty typical version of Christianity. My mom always said, however, that every religion has something to teach us. Mom said we should respect everyone’s religion as much as possible.

Until I arrived at college, I had never actually opened the scriptures of any other faith. Once I arrived here in Austin, I started a lifelong practice of respectfully reading the scriptures of other world faiths.

To my surprise, I began to learn things about Jesus I never might have discovered had I stayed in my little sectarian version of Christianity.

Sitting under a tree in the Northeast corner of Wooldridge Park, I opened up my first world scripture, which was Hindu. As I read the words of Krishna, it felt like I was hearing a missing track from a familiar song. It was like I had only seen through one facet of a diamond, and was now realizing for the first time that the true jewel was vastly larger than I could have imagined.

I could hear for the first time that Jesus, like Krishna, was calling us to something much deeper than traditional religion. I realized that both texts were cosmic hymns calling us into the vastness of our common life with all. What had been the comfortable wading pool of sectarian religion was suddenly beginning to feel like the vast open waters of life.

From Buddhism I began to understand that Jesus wasn’t calling us to dogma. Like Buddha, he was calling us to a deeper and wider wakefulness. In studying the spiritual riddles of Zen I realized that Jesus taught in parables for the same reason that Buddha did. If love is our aim, then awareness, not belief is our true path.

From Taoism I learned that heaven could be found in the ordinary gifts of nature. When Jesus told us to consider the birds of the air he was saying, like Taoists, that life itself can be our teacher. I better understood the Sermon on the Mount when I discovered the Taoist teaching that the soft (water) overcomes the hard (stone), and that “the ocean is the ruler of waters because it takes the lowest place.”

From Islam I learned to give myself fully to life, holding nothing back. From Sufi Islam I learned that humor can be a great guide to the sacred. It was Sufi poetry that first awakened me to scripture not as a joyless essay but as a cosmic song to which we should be dancing.

From Judaism I learned that love is inseparable from justice. From the Jewish prophets I learned that I needed to love the people in my religion and nation enough to tell them when I thought they were being unjust. From Judaism I came to understand that love is not a sentimental feeling, but a redistribution of the goods so that all may enjoy the necessities of life.

Finally, from atheism I learned the importance of radical honesty. Reading the compassionate appeals of freethinkers, I came to understand the second commandment (not to make images of God) means that doubt is as important to faith as is belief.

I am still a Christian after all these years, but I have left the little version of my upbringing and have come to understand my own faith as one voice in a larger choir. Most of all I have come to understand what Christian scripture means when it says, “whoever has love, has God.”


Rigby is pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX.


The essence of courage does not consist in the willingness to be violent. The essence of courage is found in the willingness to face our own pain, and to share the pain of others. Most violence in the world is born out of a lack of the courage it takes to empathize.

Religious Atheism


Our church made national headlines within our denomination, and in many religious publications, when we accepted an atheist into our membership. Our actions were pictured as defiant by some and as complacent by others. In truth, we were honoring a church tradition that goes back as far as Doubting Thomas and is found in many great religions of the world.

“All we know of the truth is that the absolute truth, such as it is, is beyond our reach.” So wrote
Nicholas of Cusa, a German mathematician and philosopher, but also a Catholic Cardinal. He called his method “De Docta Ignorantia”(Learned Ignorance).

Buddha is recorded to have said:

“…Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.'”

St. Paul recommended that we think upon everything that is true, beautiful and Good. To answer that call we most go beyond the confines of any creed.

There have been times in history when agnosticism and atheism have found honored places in the church under the title “negative” or “apophatic” theology. Such “negative” theology did not so much actively attack the symbol God, but taught that a pious and humble unknowing better honors the mystery of being than the pretended certainty of a creed.

“The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth,” wrote
Pierre Abelard, a French scholastic philosopher and theologian.

Critics often attack religion citing a principle of science called “Ockham’s Razor.” The principle states that one should tend toward simplicity in explanation. So if an agent, such as God, is not necessary for an explanation; the agent should be eliminated. What most people don’t know is that William of Ockham, who developed this core principle of science, was a Catholic priest.

We live in a culture where religion is usually equated with a very narrow spectrum of human thought, but there are religions living in our midst that welcome critical thinking and doubt.

Even Christianity has not always resisted honest doubt. There were times when the best critical and most pious thinking could live together in the same skull. There is no reason we cannot return to that kind of honest religion if we are willing to go through a perpetual reformation possible only when doubt and commitment are both deemed essential for a life of faith.


Towards the end of his career, Martin Luther King started calling himself a world citizen. He had escaped the prison of limited allegiance we are taught to have as Americans. He questioned capitalism. He questioned the American empire and whether we can surrender responsibility to such mechanistic systems and not lose our own humanity. People said that Dr. King had blown it by condemning the war in Viet Nam. Major news publications were saying he was no longer relevant. It appeared they had the last word. Martin Luther King had been organizing a March of the Poor to make the face of poverty visible in Washington, D. C.. Civil rights workers built a tent city named “Resurrection City.” The name was based on the idea of the Exodus, the resurrection from brokenness to wholeness. Before the event could happen Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee while working to help sanitation workers. The people gathered in Resurrection City anyway. It rained on them. The mud was five feet deep in some places. The movement seemed to be in shambles. Newspapers weren’t reporting what was happening. At the time, what looked like utter defeat gave birth to invincible dedication. When we look back with the eyes of discernment, we realize that something prophetic was happening that was invisible at the time. The powerful didn’t get to say what Martin Luther King meant to the poor. And thats part of what faith means, doing our duty and not letting despair have the last word in our lives either.



I saw your comments yesterday, but did not have the time or energy to enter into a conversation that will almost certainly be two ships passing in the night. I will share what I consider faulty in your arguments, but then I want to express my central concern at the end of this post.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Thou shall not have an abortion.” The biblical case against abortion is extremely weak which is why opponents are reduced to using Psalms about God knowing us in the womb, or begging the question by presuming that every reference to murder is a condemnation of abortion as well.

“Telescoping” is the practice of projecting modern concepts onto ancient texts. So the opponents of Galileo were able to “prove” the earth does not orbit the sun treating ancient poems as if they were scientific. It is the same error to take poems not directly addressing abortion and using them as “proof.”

Another exhausting technique is called “dump trucking” which means to dump a bunch of scripture passages and force your opponent to refute them all. You listed a bunch of passages, but only three remotely approach the topic at hand -Psalm 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:4-5 (saying God knows us in the womb) and Ex. 21:22-25)

You claimed that your opponents don’t care about scripture, but I have studied scripture my entire adult life in Greek and Hebrew which is why I can point out the emptiness of your argument. The idea that our souls enter the body at conception comes from Aristotle, not scripture. The word for “soul” or “spirit” means “breath” in Hebrew and the ancient Rabbi’s (before Greek influences) generally held that personhood begins at birth.

The two passages about God knowing us in the womb say nothing about the question of when personhood begins. God also knows the chick in the egg, but that doesn’t make it a person. We misuse the text when we twist it out of context and claim it is making a scientific claim. This was the error of Galileo’s opponents.

Finally, you quoted Exodus 21:22-25 which seems to make your case, but the text can be read in different ways. The NRSV quotes the passage in a way that sounds to say the fetus does not have personhood status. In that translation, injuring a woman should be punished by an eye for an eye, but inducing a miscarriage should be punished by a fine.

“22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

If you look at the rest of the chapter it talks about slaves and women as property. I may love scripture, but I don’t want to bring that horror back to life in modern jurisprudence. There is much in the Bible that would be abhorrent if applied today.

So my three concerns can be summarized as follows: I do not accept your biblical interpretation, I do not accept your claim to be judge of other peoples’ lives, and I don’t want to live in the theocracy for which you advocate.



“Scripture” is not confined to any one book. Scriptures are any writings that touch our souls, whether or not they have the blessing of organized religion. The word “canon” means “yardstick” and is intended to give us a compass to sail in the great ocean of life, not a thimble in which to limit our mind’s search for truth. How can my soul not become larger when breathing the common breath of saint and freethinker alike? Because I am a minister I have a Jewish and Christian Testament by my desk, but the drawer where I keep the quotes and poems that awaken my soul to love nature and all humankind are my Third Testament.