Liberal Christians Have it Backwards

I’ve seen a number of variations of Susan Strouse’s   essay about her path to liberal Christianity. The moment of revelation for her came at a friend’s funeral:

“I attended a funeral and happened to sit next to a friend from my interfaith women’s group. The service was in an Episcopal church, and when the priest read the gospel, I heard the words I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me through the ears of my friend—who is Jewish. I myself have read that text at countless funerals, but this time I was appalled by its apparent exclusivism. I was profoundly disturbed by this and found myself unwilling to leave her sitting in the pew when it was time to go up for Communion.”

I empathize with her reservations. It’s always awkward to be in a social setting and realize that you or you friends are not welcome to partake in the ritual at hand. But let’s use a less extreme example. I have frequently found myself in attendance at Catholic Mass. Usually this has been because I was visiting Catholic friends or family members. The Catholic Church practices closed communion. I am not Catholic.

Now for the longest tine I didn’t understand the reasoning behind closed communion. I was a Christian, after all. How dare the Catholic Church deem me unworthy of the Eucharist? I confess that at times when I was a teenager I went ahead and took Catholic communion anyway because darn it, I was a believer. But as this blog explains there is a legitimate reasoning behind the Catholic practice of closed communion. I recommend that you read it if you have time, but the gist of it is that the Catholic understanding of communion is radically different than the Protestant understanding, and it is an insult to Catholic beliefs to be presumptive enough to partake in their sacred ritual if one does not accept their beliefs.

Strouse’s reasoning illustrates the biggest flaw I see in Liberal Christianity. Liberal Christians begin with a diagnosis that God is problematic, then prescribes a man made solution intended to accommodate society’s unease with God. Who God is and what God desires is irrelevant. What matters is what people want from God, and what desires they believe God should reasonably expect of them. In theory the end result would create the most pleasant and harmonious society.

The highest priority for Liberal Christians are societal rather than religious. Interfaith dialogue is the goal, and to attain it individual religious beliefs must be subservient to it. Interfaith dialogue cannot work unless people of all faiths water down their beliefs to make allowances for other possibilities.

So a Muslim cannot state that the Koran is the Word of God,  Christians cannot state that Jesus is the Messiah, and Jews cannot claim to be the Chosen People.Each of these beliefs is in conflict with one another, and while one can pay them lip service as possibilities, they cannot be taken seriously.  So while most of the debate over Interfaith dialogue comes from Christians, it is equally insulting to the closely held beliefs of people of other faiths.

In the case of controversial verses like John 14:6, there are two basic tacts Liberal Christians take. One is to dismiss the Bible outright as unreliable, and the other is to claim that it doesn’t really say what it appears to say. Strouse goes for the latter approach. I don’t want to focus here on proofs that her reasoning is in error, what I am concerned with is the “Man first/God second” dynamic I see within Liberal Christianity. There are many ways that it manifests itself , but all of them – whether we are debating Hell’s existence or the Ordination of women – begin with the wrong premise. This is not to say that all liberal conclusions are false. Rather, it is to say that correct answers are arrived at almost by accident.

The question should not be what kind of God would most effectively accommodate all beliefs and modern sensibilities. The question should be who is God, and what does He (or if you prefer, She) want?  If God wants everything you want and believes everything you believe, then there’s probably something off. We have to accept that God’s Will is not our will, and that mean sometimes we’ll disagree with God, perhaps even strongly disagree.

2 thoughts on “Liberal Christians Have it Backwards

  1. (English isn’t my first language so this might get a bit clunky)

    I agree with the basic gist of your post. It is rather obvious that our wishes and desires have no influence on physical reality. If doctor says that you have cancer, pretending that you don’t won’t help you. In the same way, pretending that God has abilities that you would like S/He to have is not very productive. So yeah, Liberals have it backwards. However, Liberals having it backwards doesn’t mean conservatives have it any better. They generally understand why is it important to look like you care about the truth without actually caring about it.

    Take the issue of Biblical infallibility. Fundamentalists love to pretend that the Bible is totally free of error but it is rather obvious that it is not. For example there are two very different accounts on how Judas died (Matthew 27:4-6 and Acts 1:18-19). Now, it is possible to force those verses into agreeing if you use truly psychedelic exegesis, but then everything can be made to mean anything. Of course, just because the Bible has some mistakes in it doesn’t make it false, it merely demotes if from the infallible word of God into a series of historical accounts about God. Fundamentalist believers claim to have more which makes them dishonest.

    >>>In the case of controversial verses like John 14:6, there are two basic tacts Liberal Christians take. One is to dismiss the Bible outright as unreliable, and the other is to claim that it doesn’t really say what it appears to say.<<>>The question should not be what kind of God would most effectively accommodate all beliefs and modern sensibilities. The question should be who is God, and what does He (or if you prefer, She) want?<<>> If God wants everything you want and believes everything you believe, then there’s probably something off. <<<

    True. On the other hand if God's will is completely unlike our will, in what sense can it be really said that we are made in the image of God? If God's love is so different as to be unrecognizable as a human concept of love then why even call it "love"? If your God has a special dictionary special definitions of concepts like 'love' and 'justice', there is probably more than something off.

  2. (the comment system on the site seems to have cut most of my comment; I am posting it again, if that’s allright)
    (English isn’t my first language so this might get a bit clunky)

    I agree with the basic gist of your post. It is rather obvious that our wishes and desires have no influence on physical reality. If doctor says that you have cancer, pretending that you don’t won’t help you. In the same way, pretending that God has abilities that you would like S/He to have is not very productive. So yeah, Liberals have it backwards. However, Liberals having it backwards doesn’t mean conservatives have it any better. They generally understand why is it important to look like you care about the truth without actually caring about it.

    Take the issue of Biblical infallibility. Fundamentalists love to pretend that the Bible is totally free of error but it is rather obvious that it is not. For example there are two very different accounts on how Judas died (Matthew 27:4-6 and Acts 1:18-19). Now, it is possible to force those verses into agreeing if you use truly psychedelic exegesis, but then everything can be made to mean anything. Of course, just because the Bible has some mistakes in it doesn’t make it false, it merely demotes if from the infallible word of God into a series of historical accounts about God. Fundamentalist believers claim to have more which makes them dishonest.

    In the case of controversial verses like John 14:6, there are two basic tacts Liberal Christians take. One is to dismiss the Bible outright as unreliable, and the other is to claim that it doesn’t really say what it appears to say.

    Everyone claims that the Bible doesn’t really say what it appears to say for at least some verses. Take a look at Matthew 25: 34-46. That’s the most detailed description of how the final judgement is supposed to look like. Funny how is it all about helping others and being unselfish and all that socialist fluff and nothing at all about accepting Jesus as your personal savior. You have to admit that it at least strongly appears to say that to follow Jesus actually means to always help others. Now find me a conservative evangelical church that consider selfishness to be a deal breaker at the same level as rejecting Jesus is.

    I am not even going to start a rant about the way Conservative believers reject every science that contradicts with their agenda. Backwards doesn’t even begin to describe what we are dealing with here.

    Not only is their adherence to truth superficial, they also never bother to really examine implications of the things they say. For example they all love to cite the Holocaust as a great evil and the prof of evils of Evolution (even thought Hitlers beliefs are best described as pagan mish-mash and Mein Kampf reveals complete ignorance of how Evolution works.) But if all sins are equal, then why is Holocaust any worse than, say, stealing stockings? Second, as Steve Dutch pointed out, where are those Jews that where killed in holocaust now? Are they in Hell? If so, what’s the difference between what Hitler did and what God does? If people who won’t accept Jesus really are no different than maggots in God’s eye, then why are Christians so sad about them dying? If anything Holocaust seems (according to fundamentalist belief) as a good thing since only a handful of those Jews would have accepted Jesus anyway, but they would have had children that would have grown up to be non-Christians and then had to go to Hell, too.

    The question should not be what kind of God would most effectively accommodate all beliefs and modern sensibilities. The question should be who is God, and what does He (or if you prefer, She) want?

    Agreed. On the other hand, I don’t like the way most believers talk about “modern sensibilities” as if it is some kind of swear word. What kind of sensibilities would you like us to have? The fifties are often seen by fundies as the pinnacle of morality. While some people had it good, to others if was a time of widespread racism and discrimination. It was still possible to rape a black woman and get away with it. Healthcare was primitive compared to now. And the more you go back the more egregiously unjust the world was. Do you really think God wants us to turn the clock back on most issues?

    No, I am not saying that we are right about everything (far from it.) Nor do I think God should accommodate all our wishes. But tell me, what kind of society do you think is more likely to have God’s blessing; one we have now or one that many fundamentalists long for?

    If God wants everything you want and believes everything you believe, then there’s probably something off.

    True. On the other hand if God’s will is completely unlike our will, in what sense can it be really said that we are made in the image of God? If God’s love is so different as to be unrecognizable as a human concept of love then why even call it “love”? If your God has a special dictionary special definitions of concepts like ‘love’ and ‘justice’, there is probably more than something off.

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