What In the World is Liberal Religion?

What In the World is Liberal Religion? February 18, 2019

Editor’s Note: I asked “Andy,” an active United Church of Christ minister and Clergy Project member,  to help inform blog readers who come from fundamentalist branches of Christianity about “liberal” religion.  It’s obvious that there is a big lack of understanding between the groups. I find it interesting that former fundamentalists/now atheists often chide the liberals for not following Christianity properly – as if there is only one right way of practicing the religion that they have determined is wrong.  Meanwhile, the liberals breeze along, picking and choosing and keeping some kind of belief – maybe not in God per se, but in Jesus as a worthy teacher and the Bible as a treasured book of wisdom (and yes, with some crazy, or harmful stories in it too). Instead of fire and brimstone they espouse  the warm fuzzies of fellowship.  Or as the Episcopalians would say, “scripture, tradition and reason.” Maybe part of the explanation for why the liberals are dying out faster than the fundamentalists is that liberals are so vague about their beliefs that they more naturally and easily drift toward non-belief.  This is in contrast to fundamentalists who often struggle greatly with their beliefs, before ultimately abandoning them.

====================================

By “Andy”

As a devotee of ‘reader-response’ literary theory, I think the technical term ‘liberal religion’ will have many meanings (i.e., it is poly- or multi-valent), subject to the person using them. So, admittedly, it is hard to define. Nevertheless, there are some traditional understandings and interpretations that I think all liberal clergy would espouse, especially those of the mainline Protestant denominations, e.g., Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, et al.  As an atheist pastor, I adhere to them as well—with qualifications about their use of ‘God’, of course.

First, religious liberals espouse a Social Gospel.‘ “Liberal Religion” is often used to define a particular theological movement that arose in the 19thcentury, featuring the likes of prominent clerics and intellectuals like Friedrich Schleiermacher, Walter Rauschenbusch, Henry Ward Beecher, and Harry Emerson Fosdick. They believed that religion had become too concerned with salvation of the individual, and looked for connections between the teachings of Jesus and the social crises of their time (hence, the ‘social gospel’). These thinkers believed that Christianity had departed from the genius of Jesus’ teaching on the ‘kingdom of God’, which was decidedly social in its orientation.

In his Theology for a Social Gospel, Rauschenbusch lamented that Christianity had not been a force in redeeming the “institutions of human society from their inherited guilt of oppression and extortion.” Some would claim that figures such as Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King, Jr. stand in this legacy. Liberation Theology has common interests as well.

(This is the most important aspect of liberalism for me, and it’s why I remain in the church. My particular congregation is deeply committed to ‘orthopraxis’, not ‘orthodoxy’. We firmly state that all are welcome to join us in service to our community, regardless of belief, even belief in God. That’s simply not important to us—and we’re proud to have atheists and agnostics among us.)

Second, religious liberals have a high view of human reason.  Liberals easily defer to reason when it contradicts the Bible. For example, reason undermines superstition, which, sadly, underpins much of traditional theology. Liberals define superstition as the spurious attribution of causality. For example, floods, hurricanes, etc. are the results of weather patterns, not the hand of God.

Baptism isn’t the magical removal of original sin. It’s just a recognition and celebration of new life. We don’t dine on Jesus’ body and blood. We eat around a common table, a symbol of radical inclusion for everyone.

Liberals base their biblical scholarship on scientific, historical-critical methodologies, which reveal, among other things, that Moses and the Patriarchs are eponymous names, not historical persons; that Jesus wasn’t God, the second person of a Trinity, but a peripatetic Jewish sage, whose wisdom continues to shape our understanding; that there are plenty of hateful, isolationist, exploitative teachings in the Bible which must be excoriated for the benefit of life on earth.

The Bible, once it is filtered through appropriate methodological criticisms, is useful when its teaching is consistent with reasonable ethical norms for living in a world full of social crises.

Third, religious liberals recognize other ‘paths to God’.  While I wouldn’t use the word ‘God’, I do agree that Christianity has no claim to exclusive authority, and that other religious paths are to be respected. This points to yet another source of authority, beside that of reason, namely experience. Our experience teaches us that devotees of other faiths can live ethically commendable lives, and that they can be equal partners in our quest for peace and justice.

Fourth, religious liberals have complex ethical theories.  It’s certainly not easy to catalogue these, but what they have in common is a propensity to see issues in a nuanced way, instead of an absolutist one. Life is complex, and ethical theories must be adaptable. If I had a word for this, I’d call these ‘utilitarian’, maybe even ‘situational’. The model I use comes from David Hume in his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, in which he makes the case for ‘what is good and useful for ourselves and others’. I think many liberals would endorse the idea that our ethics must be based on common human experiences, disconnected from sectarian and purely religious interests. This intersects with the ‘social gospel’ ideals mentioned earlier.

While most liberal clergy of my acquaintance would ground their ethical theories in God, I believe that one can live a noble, worthy, meaningful, useful life without metaphysical postulates. We can be good without God. Moreover, in my view, we can actually make a better world withoutGod.

These loci are what come to mind as I rehearse my experience within liberal Christianity. Of course, they are just my take, and must be understood judiciously!!

**Editor’s Question**  What’s your take on Andy’s take?

==========================

Bio:  “Andy,”  a former Southern Baptist Minister, is currently a Pastor in the United Church of Christ. He plans to retire in the church, despite his rejection of metaphysical speculation (God, salvation, heaven, etc.). His life has been an evolution from traditional theism, to non-theism (via Tillich and Spong), to agnosticism (via linguistic philosophy), to ‘incipient atheism’ (via secular humanism). He holds a PhD in Biblical Studies from a major American university.

>>>>>Photo credits:  By Unknown – http://spider.georgetowncollege.edu/htallant/courses/his338/students/kpotter/walter.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10221340; “Creation of the Sun and Moon face detail” by Michelangelo  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail.jpg#/media/FilBy Carl Heinrich Bloch – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=186837

 

 


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  • See Noevo

    Andy,

    What is your congregation’s reaction to your atheism?

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Meanwhile, the liberals breeze along, picking and choosing and keeping some kind of belief…

    I.e. cherry-picking.
    My careful and extensive research has revealed that there are no cherries in the Bible.

    So how does it work, believing that God doesn’t exist, but Jesus is His son?

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Liberals base their biblical scholarship on scientific,
    historical-critical methodologies, which reveal, … that Jesus wasn’t God, the second person of a Trinity, but a
    peripatetic Jewish sage…

    Well, no. Most non-theist Bible scholars believe that, but it is not backed up by anything you could call scientific. Some people lose track of the assumptions they are making.

  • Linda_LaScola

    His congregation doesn’t know

  • larry parker

    ..whose wisdom continues to shape our understanding…

    What wisdom did Jesus impart that was unique and not available from other sources?

  • Linda_LaScola

    I don’t see where Andy said that. Speaking from my personal knowledge of how liberal Christians operate, they are fuzzy about these issues. People can believe want they want. They can respect Jesus as a great 1st century teacher, without having to believe that he is the son of god who as literally risen from the dead.

  • Linda_LaScola

    Where did Andy say that Jesus’ wisdom was unique and not available from other sources?

  • carolyntclark

    Christianity has co-opted the ideal model. The Social Gospel is basically The Golden Rule which is even more comprehensive and preceded the Gospel by
    thousands of years.The Jesus message was not news, only illustrative metaphor.

  • larry parker

    He didn’t. That’s my question.

  • Andy

    While agnostics and atheists are among my church, I do not share my unbelief. My identity is hidden. There are members that would likely cringe about having an atheist pastor, although they do not have a problem with lay persons. That may seem hypocritical to others, but it works here. Go figure.

  • Andy

    Everyone ‘cherry picks’. And what’s wrong with that? I like the cherries that are higher on the tree and closer to the sun.

  • Andy

    Actually, I think the Jesus Seminar has done a good (‘scientific’) job at identifying the real Jesus, who was decidedly uninterested in claiming divinity.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    I disagree with your opinion because of history.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    Long before christianity, people had their own beliefs. they still do, but it is unfortunate that people assume christianity is a standard to live up to and uphold. From the reading of many history books, this is not the case. In fact, it seems, the further back in history one goes, the less genocide is committed by religious convictions.

  • Andy

    Linda is correct. My citation of David Hume was meant to identify an ethical system that derives from ‘common human sentiment’, hence not unique to any religion or sect.

  • Andy

    Or perhaps Xnty has discerned it from a human experience available to everyone. As they say in my circles, ‘correlation doesn’t equal causation’.

  • Andy

    Sorry I missed your more important point. I don’t believe Jesus is/was God’s son. I accept him as a valuable guide, like many other ethical guides history has given us.

    Thanks for your comments.

  • At https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/92393cab41078677390d5c16344d4815c6e26fdc00511356ca39b8ae2f05e139.png http://LiberalsLikeChrist.Org ,
    we show why people who are serious about following Jesus Christ should be as liberal in OUR time and places, as Jesus was in HIS.
    Rev. R D

  • Andy

    I hear you. There are times I can’t stand being called a Christian. (Fact is, I mostly avoid it.) History records many deplorable acts in the name of Jesus. Nevertheless, we don’t practice genocide here at my church. Many would consider our congregation a force for good. Perhaps you’re painting with too broad a stroke?

  • Andy

    Well said.

  • Andy

    It doesn’t matter to me that Jesus might not be unique; I will concede that. It would only matter if I claimed that Xnty was unique and had a claim to absolute authority. What Jesus allows me to do is be part of a community that has an administrative structure and funding stream that enables my to practice my values.. In my community, I don’t see atheist or humanist clubs doing as much to fight injustice as many of our local churches, especially the liberal ones.

  • Linda_LaScola

    Are there atheist or humanist groups in your area? If so, would you and your church consider working with them on some worthy project

  • See Noevo

    Why not?

  • Andy

    I have not reached out to any organization, only to individual atheists that I know in our community . Some have responded by joining with us in our humanitarian projects. Good idea, Linda. Thanks.

  • Andy

    First, it’s not necessary. Second, I like to eat. As I explained above, it’s one thing to openly welcome agnostics and atheists into the church; it is another to have an atheist pastor. There are still hang-ups some of my older members would have. Hypocritical? Perhaps, but when you consider the number of people we help everyday in our depressed neighborhood, I don’t think ‘God’ minds (ha ha).

  • Mark Rutledge

    Thank you Andy for sparking this discussion. As a UCC campus minister and member of this project I am happy that you’ve identified some of the perspectives that I would affirm. There are many misunderstandings about liberals, not all of whom are alike. You’ve done a great job clarifying many of those misunderstandings. For example I self-identify as a non-theist, post-supernaturalist, secular Christian and student of the historical Jesus. Not the Jesus mis-understood as “divine” by many Christians (and rejected as such by many atheists); but rather that human 1st century poor peasant Jewish resister to Roman Imperial domination and initiator of the movement some named the “kingdom of God,” i.e. what this world would look like if God not congress made up the annual budget–a world where the means of life are shared equally be everyone– as in his shared meals in Galilean homes. Why do I think that about him?–do your own historical research! God? God is Justice God is love; but these are processes that we humans have to work out. And there are many contemporary leaders who exemplify this. Think Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, William Barber, Dorothy Day, etc. And yes, many contemporary churches committed to social justice often collaborating with their humanist brothers and sisters. In the end we humans are the ones who have to work it out.

    As one of my teachers, John Crossan, says: Theists take God too literally. Atheists take theists too seriously.
    And: “It’s not as if those ancients wrote literally and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically; no they knew they were writing metaphorically and it is now we who are now dumb enough to take them literally.”

  • Andy

    Agree 100%. I was aware of the last quote, but not the first. What a gem! I think Crossan is one of the gems of our time in understanding the non-divine Jesus of history. Funk is another one I respect highly, along with Mack and Kloppenborg. Thanks for your response.

  • Mark Rutledge

    We share admiration of the Jesus Seminar and John Crossan. I became a dues-paying associate member shortly after 1985 when Funk (and Crossan?) initiated the project. I assume you get the 4th R and read many of the same things I do. As a campus minister at Duke (now retired) I “came out” with my real name in 2010 before I retired, via a front page feature story in the Raleigh News and Observer. Had a lot of fun after that. I appreciate your current status as an active pastor, and agree that many parishioners don’t care as long other things are equal. Have you followed the story of Gretta Vosper? “A canadian preacher who doesn’t believe in god ‘ New York Times. Feb 1 NYT
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/01/world/canada/gretta-vosper

  • Mark Rutledge
  • ElizabetB.
  • Mark Rutledge

    I missed that. Thanks. I’ve been following her for several years–glad this was the outcome.

  • ElizabetB.

    Yes! Great news! Religious transitions continue!

  • ctcss

    History records many deplorable acts in the name of Jesus.

    Andy, would you agree that there are a number of approaches to Christian practice (whether by various individuals or groups) that are not in keeping with the kinds of ideas that Jesus taught and acted in accordance with?

    It strikes me that the bad reputation that Christianity often has is more likely attributable to the failings of the lower aspects of human nature and how it tends to distort and diminish high ideals rather than what Jesus actually is recorded as teaching and doing and asked his followers to do. He certainly didn’t seem to ascribe to dogmatic literalism, he seemed to encourage those who listened to him to think and to reason about God and God’s kingdom, wasn’t focused on worldly power and wealth, and seemed to try to bring healing to troubling human situations and circumstances. But when worldly thought crept into the church and imperial designs and goals began to seep into Christian thought and practice, the ideals that Jesus tried to teach seemed to be pushed aside, or at the very least, became rather distorted.

    I’m pretty sure that you and I have differing views of Jesus, but I don’t think it likely that either of us regards his thought, practice, and teaching by example as being villainous in nature. And yet there are many people who consider Christianity (which should ideally be based on Jesus’ teaching and practice) to be a source of evil and cruelty, rather than as a source of compassion and healing.

    Your thoughts?

  • mason lane

    John Crossan, says “Theists take God too literally. Atheists take theists too seriously.
    And: “It’s not as if those ancients wrote literally and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically; no they knew they were writing metaphorically and it is now we who are now dumb enough to take them literally.”

    Atheists don’t believe in any God, so it’s impossible to take something nonexistent literally. Atheist activists do attack the idea of a personal loving caring God, or the fascist totalitarian Bible God myth.

    All the atheists I know don’t take liberal theists very seriously at all since liberals are vastly different than the real philosophical enemies; Evangelicals and fundamentalists of all brands. It’s still common practice for Evangelical preachers to denounce liberal clergy satanic false prophets sent to decide the sheep.

    Having read the ancients it seemed to most were writing literally, but I can see why a liberal would want to teach that all that ancient Judeo-Christian stuff was symbolic/metaphors.

    So I disagree with John on his three assertions, but I do agree Evangelicals are dumb to take them literally and cruel to foist their doctrinal mental abuse on children with threats of hell fire.

  • mason lane

    The mythical character was hardly liberal during his nasty spiels. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a son against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. -Jesus character, Matthew 10:34 “Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes… and their wives ravished.” Isaiah 13:16 God, Jesus, same mythical dude … I and the Father are one. John 10:30

  • Linda_LaScola

    Hi, ctcss – I hope Andy responds. Meanwhile, my thoughts are that the key words in your post are “villainous” and evil” which unfortunately can be true of Christianity as it has been practiced — for instance, In Spain during the Inquisition and by some fundamentalists in the US right now.

    It’s the kind of thing that often happens when humans get their hands on something that started out good. We muck it up and turn it into something evil and cruel. There is good Christianity still out there, but the bad side gets more notice and does a lot of damage – to people and to the image of Christianity.

    The good, social justice, types of Christian churches are losing members — not, I don’t think, because people don’t like doing good works, but because they reject the supernaturalism that usually goes along with church.

  • See Noevo

    “What In the World is Liberal Religion?”

    It’s the last step before full-blown atheism.

  • Andy

    YES! Imperial designs and goals did creep into the church!!!! Constantine made it possible by legalizing Xnty; but it was Theodosius (379-95 CE) that established Nicene Xnty as the official religion of the empire. Thereafter, Xnty was in the driver’s seat. What was once persecuted, soon became the persecutor. In my view, the religion of Jesus of Nazareth worked best when it was illegal, before it could wield the sword of state power to enforce belief and behavior. I don’t think we can overemphasize the difference between the overtly anti-imperial stance of Jesus, and the emergence of state-sponsored Christendom. I remain adamantly opposed to the current marriage of church and state among the throng of Trump supporting evangelicals. It’s one of the many reasons I am no longer Southern Baptist.

  • Andy

    Indeed, we have that in common!! The JS findings make the most sense to me out of all the attempts to figure out the Jesus of history. I was especially convinced by the findings of Kloppenborg, who helped me to resolve the irreconcilable traditions of worldly wisdom on the one hand, and world-denying apocalyptic on the other–both of which are present in the gospels. They just don’t work together. If Jesus said both, then he must have been bipolar!! I side with the earlier ‘worldly-wisdom’ reconstruction of Jesus. It certainly works better for our world.

    I have been following Greta’s journey, and rejoice that the UC of Canada has dropped the issue.

    Also, I’d love to see a link to the Raleigh News story on your ‘coming out’.

    Thanks, Mark

  • Linda_LaScola

    Rev R D, I’m curious — would you say that you believe in a supernatural God?

  • Andy

    Maybe, maybe not. Lots of differing opinions and perspectives–as well as definitional issues. In a word . . . very complex. It describes my path, for sure.

  • Andy

    Perhaps Mark (and Crossan) are referring to what feels like an attack on liberal Christianity from atheists when they (atheists) want to deny them the right to their liberal position. I’ve noticed this on this blog and elsewhere–this demand for ideological purity, as if we excoriate liberal clergy for not going all the way with their reason, as if they are not being totally consistent, as if they are hypocritical for staying in the church. (Hence, ‘don’t take liberal theists so seriously’, as in ‘leave them alone’?) In the field of politics, I see this among the left-wing Democrats, some of whom I have in my congregation. Democrats aren’t pure enough, so they will vote for an independent candidate that has absolutely no chance of winning, thus ceding the general election to a much less desirable candidate. The quest for purity and non-hypocrisy is unending; and it is unending because it is unattainable. Just a thought. Thanks Mason.

  • Mark Rutledge
  • Mark Rutledge

    Today i might revise or expand on some of my quotes here–the reporter got them right then but there is more to be said. For example, my comment about god as a process of mysterious cosmic creativity is more relevant to philosophical/theological types of discussions; but if one doesn’t do that kind of talk then to say that god is justice and love works better; because they are more concrete and refer to processes that we humans must work out in our practical/ethical lives.

  • Andy

    Thanks Mark. I look forward to reading it.

  • Very good, concise overview, Andy. Thanks for this.

    I couldn’t stay in the church and gave up my ordination, but I admire those, like you, who stay in socially-relevant communities where theology is not central.

    I would add large numbers of Catholics to your list of Liberal Christians. And, of course, beyond Xians, many Jews and others much more interested in this world than any imagined other.

    Glad you noted Liberation Theology–a significant influence on me from seminary days–a powerful movement that emerged from Latin American priests (and others living among the poorest elsewhere).

  • Nice to learn a little more about your “exodus” and beyond, Mark. As I said when I left my ordination, I followed Jesus out the door. Now he’s one among many wisdom teachers, and I would have questions to ask each one. I like the quotes from Crossan.

  • Reasonable words, Andy.

    I often wonder: Why would a liberal atheist not wish to associate/communicate/even congregate with a liberal theist, and vice versa?

  • Interesting story, Mark. I imagine some of your theo-views have evolved since the article?

    I assume Dennett has since discovered that there are many in the pews who also don’t hold orthodox views, and that clergy like Andy can do fairly well in a congregational setting. Maybe Linda can enlighten us on that.

  • Thanks, this clarifies the question I was asking above. Yes, always “more to be said” if and when people have the time and interest to listen to our (sometimes rather complicated) views!

  • Andy

    Thanks Chris!

    I was influenced by Liberation Theology in seminary as well. One of the memorable books for me was Sobrino’s Christology From Below. Really powerful force, and one akin to my own aspirations.

  • Andy

    Agreed.

  • Yes, and Bonino, Gutierrez, Boff and esp. Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” along with “God is Red” (Vine Deloria), etc. A nice progression from evangelical college Philosophy and World Religions to wide-open thinking, and doing!

  • ElizabetB.

    As I was waking up this moning, it dawned on me that this may be why I haven’t been able to understand how so many Evangecals can worship our president (did you see the billboard showing pic of president with “Make the Gospel Great Again” & “The Word Became Flesh”?). I’ve been dumbfounded, since the president is pretty much the opposite of what I’ve thought of as ascribed to Jesus — welcome the stranger, care for the poor, tell the truth, others before self, no final trust in riches, work for peace. The new thought for me is that his supporters are cherrypicking out the portrait of Jesus I find appealing and are looking instead at the interpretations you have listed over the years… which ratifies a leader who exhibits all the opposite qualities. So maybe that helps me understand how they can possibly do what seems like a total about-face…. ?

  • mason lane

    Most do, it’s the easiest of conversations, certainly nothing like trying to have a reasonable dialogue with an Evangelical. I’m genuinely nonplussed at where all the conflict with liberal believers and atheists is occurring. I just don’t see it. Now conflict/social battle with Evangelicals, yes, it’s an all out war.

  • Linda_LaScola

    I do see the conflict. Many Liberals are threatened by the atheists. They know there are great similarities, but they still have this relationship with Jesus — the first century wisdom teacher, not the son of god — that many feel they can’t be totally upfront about — and/or don’t want to talk about with atheists — a conversation that would go nowhere.

    There are liberal clergy like Andy and others I interviewed who acknowledge their atheism and justify their decision to stay in the church. They see themselves as transitional figures – knowing full well that the role religion is changing drastically.

  • Linda_LaScola

    Actually I figured that out before doing the study. I belonged to one Episcopal church that welcomed non-believers, whose pastor was openly agnostic.

    I belonged to another Episcopal church, that when I was leaving, acknowledging my non-belief, several choir members urged me to stay — confiding that they didn’t believe either.

    Apparently they didn’t mind going through the motions every week. But I did.

    I have further thoughts, which I may write about more formally.

  • Linda_LaScola

    I don’t think the evangelicals ever were attracted to Jesus because he was kind. They liked the fact that he was the big boss and all they had to do was accept him as their savior, and he would protect them for eternity.

  • ElizabetB.

    As a philosophical type, I really like the way this came together — ” a process of mysterious cosmic creativity that makes for greater love and justice.” I think you and the reporter did a splendid job! Many thanks for the link!!

  • ElizabetB.

    Curious about how Sojourners describes things, I find them talking about a political takeover — whereas their brand of Evangelical’s social action concerns largely overlaps libs in general —

    “So what happened? Politics happened. A political assault and takeover was successfully executed by the Republican right wing — and the ‘Religious Right’ was born. It is now painfully clear that the evangelical world was strategically and politically co-opted — not by more conservative evangelical leaders, but by political operatives from the Republican Party who saw a real opportunity to take over the evangelical world by making particular appeals to ‘conservative social issues.’ ”
    https://sojo.net/articles/toward-more-authentic-evangelicalism

    Their 2018 “Chicago Invitation” includes —

    “* We commit to care for and protect the earth as God’s creation
    * We commit to resisting all manifestations of racism, white nationalism, and any forms of bigotry—all of
    which are sins against God.
    * We commit to resisting patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and any form of sexism and to always affirm the dignity, voices, and leadership of women.
    * We commit to defend the dignity and rights of all people, particularly as we celebrate and embrace the increasing racial and ethnic diversity in our nation and churches….”

    Just scanning a bit, maybe the greatest social action difference is on abortion. Sounds like Southern Baptists allowed it at one time, but after Roe v Wade the feeling became that now it was “for any reason or whim,” and so their stance became less nuanced.

  • Andy

    It would be interesting to hear a Unitarian Universalist perspective on this. Is the issue that liberal Christians still grant Jesus a ‘most favored person’ status? If one removes that barrier, by making Jesus just one dish in a smorgasbord of opinions on how to live ethically, would the divide lessen? I certainly don’t think Jesus was MORE special than any other leading sage of history. He was certainly a victim of his time–poor, possibly illiterate, prone to be mistaken as we all are. Yet when he sticks his middle finger to the injustices of the Empire, I cheer! What atheist wouldn’t?

  • Linda_LaScola

    I think there will be a problem as long as Christ is the center of the CHRISTian church, and as long as non-believing or “differently believing” clergy center their message around him – and subtly or overtly mislead their congregations about him.

    I don’t see how Christian churches get around this. Unitarians do it by not focusing on the teachings of Jesus or any other single prophet, wise person or philosophy.

  • mason lane

    LIberal Religion is religion that believes in a God but does not believe in magic and mythical tales in the Bible. The God of liberal Christians, Jews, Muslims is not a totalitarian fascist like the God of the Evangelicals. Here’s ten things about Liberal Christianity Religion. https://vancouversun.com/news/staff-blogs/liberal-christianity-ten-things-worth-knowing-about-this-third-way

  • mason lane
  • ElizabetB.

    In world history, so true! In that particular time and place, the golden rule broke cultural and religious norms, so might be described as “news” in that world. The dynamics are helpful when discussing with theistic Christians… In the nursing home, after the Good Samaritan, I illustrated with “the good lesbian” — tho I didn’t label it that : ) ….And in the stories of Peter’s struggle to accept us abominable gentiles, I would illustrate with some people’s feelings today about those who aren’t straight…. There’s a throughline of greater and greater inclusion that gives you ammo : ) …Of course, it can get quite uncomfortable — Episcopal bishop Curry, who’s African American, told the Good Samaritan story and sequed into Pelosi/Trump. Horrors!!!!!!!

  • ElizabetB.

    I’ve been thinking of it as more a historical notation…. and that may be largely due to Thich Nhat Hanh, who counseled people to dig into the depths of their own tradition and add in other strands, rather than try to become Buddhist, or whatever. [“Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers”] So I think of my position as — having grown up in a Christian tradition, I’m part of the transition out of the Constantinian/Theodosian version that Andy describes and into more of a universal community

  • ElizabetB.

    What would you recommend from Mack and Kloppenborg? I’m not familiar with either. Thanks so much for the great summary here!

  • Linda_LaScola

    Yes, and that’s you and your predilection, not necessarily a natural or the most likely transition from your upbringing.

    I went from liberal Catholic to lapsed Catholic/Episcopalian to atheist.

  • Linda_LaScola

    Thanks, Mason — this is a good overview. I hope lots of others read it. What did you think of it?

  • Good article.

    “Liberal Christianity is the faith practised by most mainline Protestants, including adherents of the United Church of Canada, the United Church of Christ (U.S.), Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and others. In addition, many Roman Catholics in North America are liberal Christians, given their open-minded interpretation of church teachings.”

    It would be good to see more non-theists joining in humanitarian work alongside these folks (who often leading the way as progressives) rather than fighting “wars” against all beliefs and all believers.

  • Ever read Sojourner’s or heard of Jim Wallis? There are many evangelicals who may not be “liberal” but still reasonable. Not really so hard to have a conversation with these folks.

  • ElizabetB.

    comes from my being wishywashy : )

  • ElizabetB.

    Cheers for your journey! We are all benefiting!!!! Big time!!

  • Andy

    Precisely. Sometimes I think the world is too far gone for theistic/atheistic niceties. We’re facing the 6th major extinction in earth’s history. Time to save the planet and human existence along with it.

  • Andy

    Many of us just talk of ‘Jesus’. Many liberal Xn clergy don’t believe Jesus was Messiah, or even ever claimed to be.

  • Andy

    I’d recommend Burton Mack’s “The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins”; and John Kloppenborg’s “Q: The Earliest Gospel”.

    Thanks for your interest and comments!

  • Linda_LaScola

    Sometimes I think an atheist just saying “I don’t believe in God” to someone who does is considered a war-like statement. In contrast, it’s expected for Christians to talk about all the wonderful things their faith has brought them.

    Thus, I’m concerned that “working along side”actually will mean atheists being quiet about their lack of belief (to avoid offending the believers) while the believers continue to piously express their beliefs as they have traditionally done, without comment, or with active acceptance, until those “angry” atheists came along openly expressing their non-belief.

    It’s still the case that it’s positive to say that someone is a “person of faith” but it’s negative to even mention if someone is not a person of faith.

    I think it’s called “Christian privilege.”

  • Linda_LaScola

    As long as everyone can be open about their beliefs and still be accepted.

  • mason lane

    The best way to create and cling to Jesus as a mythical wisdom teacher, as opposed to the schizo religiously deluded Jewish preacher totalitarian fascist as revealed in the “New Testament”, is to intensely cherry pick his alledged words. Here’s a pearl of “wisdom” … “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a son against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. -Jesus character, Matthew 10:34

  • mason lane

    It helps if they avoid Bible reading other than a cherry here or there. 🙂

  • See Noevo

    “What In the World is Liberal Religion?”

    I said earlier that it’s the last step before full-blown atheism.
    Here are some other characteristics:

    – It has at least one sacrament: Abortion.

    – It raises science above Scripture. (And by “science” they
    mean the junk science of evolution and catastrophic
    anthropogenic global warming.)

    – Its go-to form of government is Socialism.

    – Its teaching on sex: “Yes! By any and all means!
    Especially homosexual sex and other forms of fornication.”
    …………..

    That’s enough for now.

  • ElizabetB.

    Wellll… here we go (with my) obfuscating — I see this as describing the situation when my understanding of “the good Jesus” causes me to defend love between couples who are glbtq — and that automatically puts me at odds with one side of our family. Not deliberately stirring up trouble, but when you speak up on hot issues, fissures open up. In our extended in-law family, there are painful glbtq things not all of us have succeeded in learning how to overlook. To me, it’s a description of a reality, tho one you work to resolve. It’s a warning — don’t expect this way to be showered with approval. ….How’s that for spinning? : )

  • Andy

    Wow—tell us what you really think

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Is it “actually” – indicating a fact , or is it “I think” – indicating an opinion? I am not interested in you jacking up your opinions with unearned rhetoric.

  • ctcss

    Linda, I don’t think that an atheist simply stating their belief about God would be a problem to a Christian of non-judgemental demeanor, any more than a Jew, Muslim, Hindu, etc. stating their honestly held beliefs would be a problem. Look, you live in the DC area and it’s obvious just how many different kinds of believers and places of worship exist there, even including the Washington Ethical Society! Everyone realizes that they live in a multicultural region, so everyone just goes with the flow and accepts that people are just people. To do otherwise would make for a very contentious living environment.

    The closest thing DC has to a mono-culture (actually, a duo culture) are the Rs and the Ds glaring at each other.

    Granted, some Christians can be a little oblivious at times as to the sensitivities that they may be stepping on, but I work with people who are religious (and often Christian), and I don’t think I have heard much of any religion talk in the workplace. They are there to do a job, and very often their companies are doing business with people from all over the globe, thus they realize that they have to be considerate of other cultures.

    People (and this can certainly include those of the Christian faith) who realize that they live in a large, diverse world and are happy to do so aren’t the problem. It’s the humans who are afraid of other humans unlike themselves who often cause issues. But even that can be dealt with by being neighborly and responding with kindness and consideration. It may take years for some (not all, luckily), but eventually their eyes can be opened to the concept that they don’t have to be afraid. And it simply starts with loving them first and expressing it in ways that make them feel safe, secure, and at peace.

    My 2 cents.

  • ctcss

    It’s the kind of thing that often happens when humans get their hands on
    something that started out good. We muck it up and turn it into something evil and cruel.

    Which says to me the problem isn’t that religion is evil and should either be avoided or stamped out. Rather, it’s that humans are flawed creatures who allow themselves to be ruled by the lower impulses of their nature. So instead of rejecting unkind or fearful thoughts when they are presented to us (either internally by our own thinking or externally by the thoughts of others), we embrace them and allow them to direct our actions towards one another. The lower impulses of the human creature are what distorts and sullies the higher thoughts present in inspired religious teaching and turn it into something horrifying and dismaying. Which is why the thoughtful consideration of any ideas being presented to one is so important. The last thing anyone should want is to blindly follow something unevaluated, and thus to be potentially ruled or imprisoned by it.

  • ElizabetB.

    Thank you so much for the titles!!!! Just finished Mack, looking forward to Kloppenborg! I love the idea of the Cynic sage collection’s coming long before the canonical gospels’ myth development. That helps make sense of the NT’s combinations of appealing sayings & acts and appalling ones : ) I don’t know how I’ve been missing the serious work on Q! Intriguing, and promising to be a great help! Gratitude!!

  • ElizabetB.
  • Andy

    You’re very welcome. I like the ‘appealing vs. appalling’ wording! Thanks.