2011-12-09

What I don’t like about “liberal” Christianity

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by Neil Godfrey

First the caveats. I do not like a lot about both of the mainstream political parties in Australia. I believe both parties have enacted some legislation that has caused bitter damage to some peoples’ lives. But I do like a lot of people who strongly support or are even members of those political parties. The point is that one can dislike, even detest, certain viewpoints yet not be a jerk when it comes to human relationships. That includes religious viewpoints. I think I know how to distinguish between ideological (including humanitarian) argument and personal intolerance as well as one who has vehemently and publicly protested recent wars while maintaining a bond with an army-son voluntarily participating in one of those wars.

If you hate reading here is the synopsis of what is to follow: “Conservative” (US) of “fundamentalist (Aus) Christianity may believe a lot of weird stuff but so what? So does “liberal” Christianity, although those who call themselves “liberal” Christians may relabel some of their beliefs as “mysteries” or “unknowns” in place of “miracles”. But as may be distilled from the above paragraph, what really counts is the nature of a person. I have known good and bad people who are Christians, Jews or Muslims — “conservative/fundamentalist” or “liberal”. But though goodness or badness comes down to the nature of the person, it is also clear that there are certain belief systems that tempt, lead astray, deceive individuals into thinking and behaving badly towards their fellow creatures.

The first thing I don’t like about “liberal” Christianity is that I believe it gives social licence to the respectability of what Americans call “conservative” Christianity (which is what I think Australians label “fundamentalism”). It gives social respectability to the concepts of knowledge, world-views and beliefs on the basis of “faith” and “revelation” as opposed to “reason” and “science”. Now of course liberal Christianity by simple definition is all in favour of reason and science. But it also embraces and extols their opposites. Obviously, or it would not be a faith or a religion.

Imagine (with John Lennon) no liberal Christianity. Where would that leave the conservatives (US)/fundamentalists(A)? One thing is for sure. They would no longer be able to hang on like desperate waifs to the skirts of their “wayward mothers”. Society would be faced with a stark choice: Reason or Faith? No in-betweens to mess with. Liberal Christianity makes it respectable to trump reason with faith. The trick is to avoid calling faith a spade and calling it instead a “mystery” or “something incomprehensible”.

The second thing I don’t like about “liberal” Christianity is that it tolerates and even supports through example the intellectual ethics of antiquity. It has not grown up. Or maybe it has reverted to its childhood of millennia ago. Liberal Christianity, let’s face it, believes the Bible of all books should be at least one of the cornerstones of society. And we know many of these “liberal Christians” are most certainly sincere. They do practice what they would preach.

Note the Biblical texts presume to know the minds and hearts of that group of people to whom it has never drawn close, the unbelievers, the atheists. These people, the “mind of God” assures us, are “fools” and “wilfully ignorant” and “arrogant” and out to deceive. There is not a moral gene in any of their cells. Atheists are by biblical definition (and liberal Christianity acknowledges the Bible even if “man-made” as a way to God’s thoughts) not to be trusted. And any who have fallen from the faith are even worse. This is the biblical teaching.

And so it is that “liberal” and “conservative/fundamentalist” Christians alike know how to judge — let’s be honest here and say “condemn” — certain people. Those who oppose the values and beliefs they associate with God are wickedly motivated according to this belief.

Finally let’s come to the most detestable thing. Not all, but certainly a good many — all far too many — “liberal” Christians embrace the morally and cognitively superior view of the God of their favourite parts of this 2000 + year old Bible. Too many of these will certainly let you know it, too. Their biblical heroes, the prophets and apostles (or at least some letter-writers and gospel authors), would call those who they perceive as opposing their god “heathen” or “apostates” or “fools” or “arrogant” or “deceivers” — even “wilful deceivers” and “pretenders”. Wolves in sheep’s clothing, one of the most fundamental motifs of all.

If “liberal” Christianity gives licence for such character assassination (“justified” of course as a revelation of the all-knowing mind of GOD) — and it certainly appears to, at least from not a few “liberal Christians” I have had the misfortune to encounter — where does that leave the “conservatives/fundamentalists”?

If the “liberals” tolerate and even practice the same sorts of judgmentalism and name-calling we find among the Old and New Testament “people of God”, how much more legitimized must the “conservatives” feel and — more important — must the broader community feel is acceptable?

I know some people have raised their eyebrows at me when I have expressed some impatience for even these “liberal” Christian types, but having experienced probably 80% of the full spectrum of religious life, both as a believing actant and struggling “actee”, I think I have some idea of the workings of the temptations of the serpent and the consequences those who fall victim impose upon the innocent.

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Neil Godfrey

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  • 2011-12-11 08:04:03 GMT+0000 - 08:04 | Permalink

    “And so it is that ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative/fundamentalist’ Christians alike know how to judge — let’s be honest here and say ‘condemn’ — certain people. Those who oppose the values and beliefs they associate with God are wickedly motivated according to this belief.”

    Welcome to the world. I mean seriously–everyone condemns those who oppose their values and beliefs. Take two atheists — one who believes in global warming and one who doesn’t — will they not condemn one another? Maybe not to hell, obviously, but they will condemn one another as idiots.

    The one point I would make against liberal Christianity is the on that you seem to have missed. No matter how liberal Christianity becomes, it always seems to insist that Jesus’ death was necessary for our salvation and that believing this is necessary for salvation. In fact, I could phrase it another way: no matter how liberal “liberal” Christianity becomes, it never seems to be able to get rid of the doctrine of original sin, the idea that we are born condemned. By contrast, even the absolutely most fundamentalist version of Judaism nonetheless does not have a doctrine like that! Liberal Christianity, then, is still more fundamentalist than the most fundamentalist Judaism, and that’s saying something.

    If liberal Christianity were as liberal as liberal Judaism, would there be a problem with it?

    • 2011-12-11 08:10:49 GMT+0000 - 08:10 | Permalink

      “If liberal Christianity were as liberal as liberal Judaism, would there be a problem with it?” — Of course, then, it would have to drop the idea that Jesus’ death saves, and the role of Christ would become nothing but as teacher as an example of suffering martyrdom for one’s beliefs and. Liberal Christianity, no matter how liberal it becomes, craves the approval of fundamentalist Christianity. So, they can’t take that step. They would get labelled as ‘Pelagians’ and to be labelled by the name of a group of people who were condemned by a Roman Catholic council a thousand years ago is just a horribly thing to a Christian, even a Protestant who doesn’t believe in Roman Catholic councils!!! (Oh the irony.) It would also require the admission that Jesus was a man — a real one, not a fake one — and that he didn’t know his crucifixion was going to happen ahead of time. Of course, the idea that Judas ‘betrayed’ him requires this — since it isn’t betrayal if he wanted it to happen or gave Judas permission (as in John’s gospel) — yet the liberal Christians might admit that the gospels don’t get everything 100% historically right, but they would never admit (would they?) that Jesus didn’t know his crucifixion was going to happen — they kinda require that he came down from heaven explicitly to be crucified.

      .

      To admit that we are not born condemned would result in having to admit that there was no need for a God-man to die as a sacrifice for sin. If sin is not a metaphysical stain ingrained in our nature, then it can be handled simply with LAW as is done in Judaism, and no divine sacrifice is needed. (I’ve seen fundamentalist Christians say this hundreds of times.) This then is the problem.

      This then is the problem. If liberal Christians stop viewing sin as a metaphysical stain ingrained in our nature, how will they retain their Christians heritage? They will become Pelagians and seem more like Jews, for Pelagianism is just Christianity that views sin as an act rather than a metaphysical stain ingrained in our nature, and as a result believes that people can be saved even outside of Christianity by living a moral life — in otherwords, it views the solution as being LAW, just as Judaism does. But–since it is still somewhat Christian and not wholly Jewish–it views the possession of Jesus’ example as providing the individual a heightened ability to life the moral life.

      If liberal Christianity were to take this step to full Pelagianism, the world would undoubtedly be a better place. However, people don’t tend to view the purpose of religion as being to make them better people morally–they want religion to make them more important than others, not more moral. This is why Pelagius is considered a heretic. Pelagius viewed the purpose of religion as making us better morally. Augustine as making us more important. Which do you think most people would choose in the end? Its kinda a duh.

      .

      “they want religion to make them more important than others, not more moral.” This is why even those who reject Calvinism tend to replace it with Arminianism or even semi-Pelagianism rather than full Pelagianism. The belief that you were predestined by God makes you feel more important than others. It certainly doesn’t make you more moral. But someone might object to the idea that predestination is random or arbitrary (as it is in Calvinism) and thus make it instead to be based on foreseen belief (as in Arminianism). They don’t want to entirely toss it aside–because then, how will they feel superior?

  • 2011-12-11 10:25:05 GMT+0000 - 10:25 | Permalink

    I mean seriously–everyone condemns those who oppose their values and beliefs. Take two atheists — one who believes in global warming and one who doesn’t — will they not condemn one another? Maybe not to hell, obviously, but they will condemn one another as idiots.

    I’m glad I don’t live in a society where this is true. Sure there are people who are like this. But everyone? There is some light outside where you apparently live.

    • 2011-12-11 11:13:55 GMT+0000 - 11:13 | Permalink

      I don’t know any atheists who “believe in”* global warming, quantum physics, or evolution by natural selection. They simply “accept” the scientific consensus as the best current explanation. If they don’t agree with the consensus through some kind of intuition (i.e., without evidence), well, that’s kind of quirky, but I wouldn’t condemn them. I’m not even sure how I would do that. Should I spin around and shout “I rebuke you!” three times?

      *One of the interesting things I discovered when I deconverted was the fact the the universe doesn’t care whether you believe in physics, math, biology, etc. What a relief.

      • 2011-12-12 03:36:07 GMT+0000 - 03:36 | Permalink

        Global warming isn’t some normal scientific observation of science like gravity to simply be ‘accepted’ — its a religious tenant that requires certain behaviors.

        • 2011-12-12 04:25:55 GMT+0000 - 04:25 | Permalink

          If by “tenant” you mean “tenet,” then I would agree, but only to the extent that it requires a kind of religious fervor to deny the evidence for global warming. That’s probably why climate change denialism is so prevalent in the US. Only here could you get such large numbers of people to believe against all evidence at hand that it’s a hoax and that the scientific community and their closet communist enablers are scamming the public.

          To demonstrate the irrational nature of this denialism, consider the following shotgun assertions that make no sense when taken together, but which are often held simultaneously. Depending on the situation that same people will argue that:

          1. There is no global warming.

          2. Well, of course there’s global warming, but it isn’t anthropogenic.

          3. Yes, it’s undeniable human activity is making global warming worse, but there’s nothing we can or should do about it.

          4. OK, I’ll grant you that global warming exists and is anthropogenic, but the world will be better off when it’s warmer, so we should do nothing.

          This is a classic case of Kettle Logic. This would be one of those “certain behaviors” you were talking about.

          • 2011-12-12 04:43:46 GMT+0000 - 04:43 | Permalink

            Thanks for teaching me to spell. Global warming is a ploy by the government to find something new to tax. We’ve run out of things to tax so lets tax how much methane cows fart; and lets see if in the future we can get away with taxing how much CO2 (hope I spelled that right) people exhale.

            Let’s also ban the cheap incandescent light bulb that is made by various companies, and force everyone to buy the new “curly-q” light bulbs that contain mercury gas (which is harmful to the environment and will no doubt contribute to global warming if anyone drops one of the said light bulbs) and thus boost the sales of GE (which appears to be a government run company now) — because if you have looked at the light bulbs recently, you’ll find only GE sales the new kind. Coincidence, right?

            After climate gate anyone who believes in global warming is a moron, and if it weren’t for the fact that there are atheists smart enough to reject this racket (hope I spelled that right) I’d consider it proof of the old saying “if you don’t believe in God you’ll believe in anything”

      • 2011-12-12 03:36:36 GMT+0000 - 03:36 | Permalink

        O man, Tim, you forgot to close your italics.

  • 2011-12-12 04:45:22 GMT+0000 - 04:45 | Permalink

    Oh, the worst thing about liberal Christians is they believe in global warming. Idiots.

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