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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