5.13.2005

liberal christianity?

ooo! friday the 13th! this seems like as good a day as any to bring up issues of politics and religion. So I know this is a relatively well-worn topic, but I'm not sure I've really talked this through with anyone. Ray once put me on a list of "liberal christians." I immediately felt uncomfortable with that label--in fact I downright disagreed with it--but I wasn't sure why. I think there are some clear distinctions between what an evangelical believes, what a conservative believes, and what a liberal believes. And I'm not sure I agree entirely with what I've found inside any one of those categories. Instead, I want to see if there are segments of each that I like or don't (in true post-modern style) and attempt to synthesize something more appealing. Here's what I find a liberal christian to believe:
  1. Social gospel--i.e., Christ came to earth primarily to change the socio-political structure. Redemption was important but insufficient to explain his death & purpose.
  2. Kantian distance between God and Man--God is essentially greater than man, so we cannot truly know God or anything about him. Faith is, to that extent, initiated and executed unidirectionally from God to humans. We have little to add and cannot even make statements about God that we can be certain are true. In other words, you might have a completely different conception of God and that's okay since neither of us can truly know anything about something as transcendent as God.
  3. Scriptural incoherence--the Bible is a document just like any other and subject to the same criticisms. The fact that it has been used to promote things that we now consider evil (slavery, the Crusades, etc.) is proof that no faith document should be held up over basic human morality to justify an action or belief that is otherwise clearly wrong (spousal abuse, etc.). In other words, Scripture makes for good conversation and narrative but is not to be understood didactically in most cases.
  4. Pacifism should be the norm, not the exception. There are extraordinarily few cases where one human should inflict violence on another.
  5. The status quo, even the religious status quo, is to be suspected as somehow supporting oppressive power structures. Christians should always resist these power structures.
Here's what is seems like conservatives believe on the same points:
  1. Jesus came primarily to redeem humankind. If he challenged the socio-political order (like the moneychangers incident) it was primarily to establish a more moral order--to destroy corrupt 2nd Temple Judaism and ancient adherence to Canaanite cults and Greco-Roman polytheism.
  2. God is "with us." Through the work of the Holy Spirit and the testimony of Scripture, God's characteristics, attitudes, etc. can be understood fairly concretely. Moreover, God does not "change," so the revelation of his attributes to Abraham continue to apply today.
  3. Given the assumptions of #2, Scripture is extraordinarily important for conservatives. Because of multiple passages that ostensibly refer to Scripture as testimony to the historical acts of God and others that call for believers to utilize Scripture "for training in righteousness" (2 tim. 3.16) among other things, the coherence and reliability of Scripture is pretty much non-negotiable.
  4. Pacifism is misguided in the face of clear immorality or injustice. Conservatives cite WWII, abortion, and the Hebrew Exodus as examples of justified violence and/or resistance through non-passive means.
  5. The status quo is dangerous when it supports immorality, as it does in American pop-culture and the "liberal bias" in media for instance. But the status quo, when it is run by the "moral majority" is quite helpful in promoting the Christian agenda. Even though there were obvious moral failings in the Catholic Church, the largely Christian medieval period in Europe was a logical application of St. Augustine's City of God concept--the unification of Christianized morality and the earthly power to enforce it.
There's probably more stuff out there that I'm missing. Glaringly so, I'm sure. But this is a blog post and not a book. So we'll have to stop. What I'm trying to work out here is that both sides have valuable contributions to make. But when pushed to extremes--sometimes simply the logical extentions of these arguments--we get perspectives that seem very far from each other. Even contradictory in some cases. But where do we put down a stake and say, "This is good; this seems like something Christ would endorse"? Or, "This is bad; Jesus would disapprove of this"? I'm not sure. It seems that on each individual point and on all the ones I left out besides that there can be degrees of certainty, degrees of assent or belief or agreement or whatever. And for some of these things--I would argue for all of them--there cannot be subject-independent certainty (in other words, there is no absolute, God's-eye perspective attainable by a mere human or group of humans). But there can be "justified, true belief" for some of these points. So the take away message seems to be that we can believe things strongly, but we should hold these beliefs provisionally when they imply particular actions. Provisionality means, at minimum: (1) getting multiple perspectives from people different than ourselves, (2) honestly considering these perspectives the way we would like our perspectives to be considered, and (3) taking the time to think through what impact our actions might have if we strongly held and acted upon these various perspectives. In order to be provisional, we need to give ourselves time to listen, think, and act. Time. Not sound bites. Not emotional highs or simple conviction without forethought. Time. Frankly, knee-jerk reactions by both liberals and conservatives piss me off. We don't consider stuff. We don't love as we want to be loved. We just dogmatically act, talk, vote, and myopically ignore the rest of the world. And this is why I can be neither a liberal Christian nor a conservative one. I can be a "mere" Christian. But since I'm unclear what that means too, I'm not sure what to be.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jeff Cannell said...

Last year I decided to attempt to never use the words "liberal" or "conservative" when discussing faith or perceived lack of faith. The words become shibolleths that destroy true dialogue.

Good post nontheless.

5/13/2005 3:29 PM  
Anonymous Ray Grieselhuber said...

I don't think I said "liberal", I think I said non-right, but I could be mistaken. People often call me liberal and I usually don't like the label myself.

Furthermore, there are two possible interpretations when you say a "liberal Christian" - one is the definition you gave which is basically a someone who claims to be a Christian but seems uncomfortable with the idea of a personal God and the inerrancy of scripture. The other interpretation is a Christian that shares the beliefs of other Christians - fallen man, personal God, Christ as only savior, etc. but has political viewpoints that are left-leaning. This is what I meant when put Erik on that list although I understand that he probably wouldn't even like this label (and I don't for myself, because I don't think my politics are necessarily or completely left-leaning).

Either way, I agree with Erik and Jeff that people seem to cling to one of two extremes and it destroys all useful dialog and relationship which is stupid and pointless to me.

5/16/2005 10:05 AM  
Blogger e said...

just to be clear, none of this was meant to criticize ray for anything. if this came off sounding like a rant against you, ray, i'm really sorry...cause it wasn't at all meant that way.

i had been thinking about all of this stuff for, dunno, maybe a month now and trying to parse what it means to be various things, designated various ways, and this is what came out.

so hopefully no offense, man.

5/20/2005 12:37 AM  

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