Liberalism Around the Blogosphere (and in the aftermath of the Indiana State Fair tragedy)

Mike Bird’s caricature/critique of Liberal Christianity and my response to it are getting some discussion around the blogosphere (as well as on Reddit). See in particular Mason’s discussion of both posts and his question about whether liberalism and progressivism are the same.

Those who find my exchange with Mike interesting will probably also be interested in Scott McLemee’s piece on Evangelical and Ecumenical Christians in Inside Higher Ed.

And also related are two bits of news in the aftermath of the Indiana State Fair tragedy. Jen McCreight pointed out that after one member of a lesbian couple was killed in the tragedy, the survivor’s injuries were added to by the fact that she had few legal rights in Indiana with respect to her deceased partner. Whatever their views may be on homosexual marriage, what exactly do conservative Christians think they are accomplishing by advocating legislation that affects those they disagree with during life’s most difficult moments? (UPDATE: It seems that some reports that have circulated jumped to conclusions. The surviving partner is still in the hospital and so, while this issue might come up, it apparently has not yet).

And P. Z. Myers pointed out how some are interpreting the prayer time which delayed the country duo Sugarland long enough to avoid being on stage when the disaster happened. As a Liberal Christian I find such theological interpretations akin to those of Job’s friends, and am dismayed that more people do not see that in making God the author of the survival of some, they are also making him out to be one who could have prevented more loss of life and injury but did not.

And so perhaps these real-life cases can provide useful topics for discussion, as we consider how liberals, conservatives, moderates, progressives and others view such things, and what the real world implications are of some of the views and courses of actions we take.

  • Elbryanlibre

    James:
    “As a Liberal Christian I find such theological interpretations akin to those of Job’s friends, and am dismayed that more people do not see that in making God the author of the survival of some, they are also making him out to be one who could have prevented more loss of life and injury but did not.”

    James, this will always be a problem whenever you thank God for something you consider providential that others didn’t receive. You thank God for your job, meanwhile others don’t get a job or lose the one they have You thank God for your food meanwhile millions starve. You thank God for your wife meanwhile millions never find love. You thank God for your children meanwhile millions never can have kids or lose the ones they have. It’s no less a problem whether it’s a small thing you thank God for or a large thing. Basically you have to decide whether God is responsible for anything in the world or he’s not, and if he is can we thank him when it goes our way even if it didn’t go someone else’s.

    • Anonymous

      the greater question for me is; can we thank and think of God as acting partially toward us and ignoring others….the world will never be an equal place, SO, let’s focus on making it a LIBERAL place, where at least, as James shared, those that differ from us, can still receive similar “comforts” in their time of distress! One can call Ayn Rand’s followers selfish if they want, but I understand such “selfishness” as self awareness and responsible behavior. Those that think they are the “center of the universe and God’s attention” need a reality check as to their view of selfishness via narcissism!

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Thanks for your comments on both this and an earlier post. I personally find that if I articulate my thankfulness simply as that, as gratitude and relief, and not as thankfulness to God for personally arranging things in my benefit, I can preserve the essence of such thanksgiving without it requiring the theological pitfalls I mentioned.

    Yes, a stance of this sort involves rethinking what God is like and what, if anything, God does. Even if one’s own individual experience doesn’t lead one there, our collective human experience and the Holocaust in particular seems to require us to do such rethinking. When one adds the progress of scientific explanations, it seems all the more necessary. And so, while there are a variety of options, ranging from forms of Deism in which God does nothing, to panentheism and Process Theology in which God is involved in everything. But if one wishes to not simply repeat what people have believed in the past, but relate it to what we now know and have experienced, then some sort of revision seems unavoidable.

  • http://elbryanlibre.wordpress.com/ El Bryan Libre

    Glad to comment on both although this blog format makes it difficult on Android phones.

    So
    you just say your thankful but not to God? Or you thank God but not for
    anything in particular that he might have done? Am I understanding you
    correctly?

    So you don’t subscribe to anything on the spectrum of
    Deism to pantheism? Do you have a particular view of providence and
    God’s involvement in the world that you subscribe to?

    Do you
    think liberalism ever overthinks God so that eventually they don’t know
    how to worship him? When I begin to overthink God, including issues like
    providence and theodicy, and I seek to make sure my thoughts about God
    aren’t contradictory or don’t make God sound arbitrary or negative, then
    I find it hard to worship or pray to him. I never want my thoughts to
    misrepresent or blaspheme him. Then I end up gravitating towards Deism.
    That happens a lot with me. I mean when you think about it, if your tend
    to gravitate towards a God that fits more the mold of the philosophers’
    God (I do) rather than what you read in the Bible, then ultimately
    everything he does in relation to the universe sounds arbitrary. He can
    never commit to anything because it sounds arbitrary and random
    considering he’s God, because he’s perfect and has infinite knowledge
    and power. Why create the laws of the universe the way they are or
    chemistry and biology the way it is? There’s always an infinite amount
    of other ways he could of done it. It’s easier to say he’s more like
    Deism sees him as and have him not involved with anything beyond the
    initial wind up that lets the universe unfold however it may.

    But
    when I get to that I eventually just give up and return to what I know
    which is the model of worship and prayer that was given to me by the
    charismatic church I was saved in.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @25b7a0eb9d22ec534a29fc2d61cbaa9c:disqus , it sounds like we have a lot in common! 
    I believe there is a sense in which liberalism with a mystical bent can do both. We can recognize that myth and story of a variety of sorts may not convey factual or historical truth, but may convey other sorts of truth. We can recognize that there is a long mystical tradition in Christianity (as well as other faiths) of recognizing that anything we say about God is at best inadequate and at worst hopelessly wrong, and instead of leading to paralysis, it can lead to a recognition that it is OK to use metaphors and to lose oneself in worship. But in the end, it remains true for me, as it sounds like it does for you, that the head and heart don’t always agree and don’t always work together. But that too just suggests to me that there are different ways of viewing and engaging reality and we don’t always have to know how to connect or harmonize them all to find them all useful.

  • Anonymous

    What do you mean by “head and heart” James? We are a total being, aren’t we? Self interest is of value if we are honest about anything! (unless we follow the “gods” toward their particular vision or goal of self sacrifice!).

    I think John Loftus is right, that religion is a delusion, because it requires a view about life as “God”s and not one’s own personal responsibility and choice, as to goal and purpose!

    Each person in our free society should be self-responsible, not dependent on hearing what “a god” has to say about what, where and how!!!

  • Anonymous

    The questions boil down to how one views all aspects of life and society. The questions cover everything from “God”, Truth, Knowledge, Identity, morality, values, and the nation-state, or globalism. No two people would agree on every aspect in a free society and that is as it should be!

    And THAT is the difference between philosophy and religion. Religion doesn’t ask questions, it just submits and accepts what “fate” (the gods) have divyed out. Philosophy doesn’t end the questioning because society, the world and “self” are ever changing as to the information, as the “self” also is changing opinions, views and political commitments….but that does not mean that we should not consider or learn from the past, as the Greco-Roman world were our foundations, as well as the history of liberty and a tolerance about  personal conscience toward/about religious commitment!

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @angievandemerwe:disqus , I appreciate your emphasis on personal decision, and not using something or someone else to shift responsibility from ourselves. Yet I am also convinced that I am not ultimate, absolute or supreme, and while the language of God can sometimes be used in negative ways, such language can also be a symbol of our limitedness, our need for humility, our dependence on and interconnectedness with others. 

    And there are many religious people who would agree with your points about religious liberty and liberty in general. The Baptists are historically associated with that very emphasis on freedom of conscience and separation of church and state. It pains me to see how far some Baptists in our time have departed from that heritage.


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