The Great Chain

The Great Chain

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Liberal Christianity = Form Without Substance

Liberal Christians are slippery beasts.  So slippery, that it is incredibly difficult to discern what, tenets of Christianity, they actually believe.  Of if they believe any of them at all.  Trying to pin down a Liberal Christian on any tenet of theology is like catching a receding wave.

Where a literal fundamentalist will always stand their ground, loudly and proudly declaring that the Bible is literally true and any evidence to the contrary is wrong, the Liberal Christian will almost always concede that the no, Bible is not literally true . . . with the small caveat that there may be truth in it.  In fact, when pressed on almost any theological tenet, the Liberal Christian will concede, with a small caveat.  Always with a small caveat.  Liberal Christians LOVE small caveats.

Indeed, the Liberal Christian's primary theological attribute appears to be reflexive equivocation and disdain for certainty.  Liberal Christians HATE certainty.  They despise it in all of its forms, equating  certainty with fundamentalism, with radicalism, with militancy.  It appears to be the only consistent component of their theology.

In this regard they greatly resemble agnostics.  Indeed, an outsider listening to an atheist discussing theology with a Liberal Christian could easily mistake the Liberal Christian for either an atheist or an agnostic.

         Liberal Christians doubt Biblical inerrancy, with the caveat that some of it may be true.
         Accept the major tenets of evolution, cosmology and physics.  With the caveat that we cannot know or explain everything.
         Doubt the existence of miracles or the efficacy of prayer.  With the caveat that we cannot know or explain everything.
         Doubt the existence of Hell.  With that small caveat.
         Doubt the exclusivism of Christianity (or Islam or any other Religion).  With that small caveat.
         Doubt the idea that God intervenes in the affairs of human beings.  With that small caveat.
         Some doubt that God even exists as any kind of 'Being' at all – content with the idea that God COULD simply be some kind of nebulous organizing principle that gives purpose to living things – rather like the Force in Star Wars before George Lucas fucked it up.

When pressed, the Liberal Christian will almost always yield ground and will almost always concede . . . with that small caveat of uncertainty.

In truth, most Liberal Christians are Cultural Christians and Theological Agnostics.  The Cultural Christianity provides an excellent social framework where they can focus on the parts of the Bible they like – those that preach love and peace and fellowship and allows them to maintain a believe in their deep seated desire for life everlasting.  While at the same time, their Theological Agnosticism allows them to discard all of the parts they don't like – the wrathful, petty, vengeful, interfering, bigoted, homophobic, misogynistic, child-killing, slave demanding, war-making, blood sacrifice demanding God.  Ultimately, Liberal Christianity exhibits a preference for the form of Christianity rather than its substance.

While this seems to be reasonable and accommodating and understanding, it poses two problems.  The larger problem is that far too many Liberal Christians allow their cultural affinity for Christianity to serve as an excuse to remain silent in the face of fundamentalist bigotry and intolerance.  Far too few Liberal Christians are willing to speak boldly against the casual homophobia and intolerance that infects so much of fundamentalist Christianity.

Moreover, it is an ultimately empty, vapid and useless epistemological framework.  Either our senses tell us true things about the Universe or they do not.  If our senses tell us true things then we can use our senses and those we augment with technology to tell us true things about the Universe.

If our senses do not tell us true things about the Universe, then our knowledge of existence is reduced to GIGO where nothing is true, logic is meaningless and all epistemology is rendered useless anyway.  While that is certainly an epistemic and philosophical possibility, it seems highly improbable given the degree of success we have in applying our sensory driven knowledge to the physical world.  And even if our senses do NOT tell us true things about the Universe, given our flawed perceptions we would have no way of KNOWING they were wrong anyway.

The reality is that we DO know things about the Universe.  Enough to apply the knowledge we have gained to send ships and satellites into orbit, enough to take detailed pictures of galaxies billions of light years away and analyze their chemical makeup, enough to facilitate virtual discussions via electromagnetic radiation transmitted via wireless signals all over the world, enough to crack our own genetic code.  We know LOTS of things about the Universe and can do incredibly awesome things with that knowledge.

To be sure, we may never be able to have absolute, unequivocal, beyond any scintilla of doubt, KNOWLEDGE but to require that kind of knowledge is unreasonable, paralyzing and self-defeating.  Especially when that standard of proof is ONLY applied to questions of the supernatural.


  1. Shelby Spong is a liberal Christian who I actually admire a lot, as he does take a stand against his more bigoted bretheren, and does so specifically from a faith position. While obviously I find his faith irritating, his actions are admirable.

  2. I have no quarrel with the live and let live type of Christians - mostly because their theology is so nebulous and empty it really doesn't mean anything. So long as it doesn't enable the more virulent strains, they're more than welcome to have a vague hope of eternal life. It's the enabling that I have a problem with.

    Hemant Mentha over at Friendly Atheist had a good article on this last week.

  3. My generation, the very young generation that is, seems to be chock full of this breed. 99% of them could care less, and as atheism increases they won't speak out. The message of Christianity will become more and more vague, coupled with scientific achievement and promoted education. After a while, the fundamentalists will be a small portion who will become scrutinized for their irrationality by deists, liberl religionists, atheists, etc. In a lot of ways, these liberal Christians are only benefiting us.