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The rise of the religious left
July 24, 2013 3:42 PM   Subscribe

According to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute [PDF], 1 in 5 Americans can now be defined as "religious progressives". These people, who eschew the current Republican agenda of religious social conservatism, have Republican leaders caught in the middle between an aging religious conservative majority and young religious progressives.
posted by reenum (183 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting. Another 1 in 5 Americans (and 1 in 3 people under 35 or so) are not affiliated with any religion. Which, to me, doesn't explain the incredible amount of crazy-illegal anti-women's health/abortion laws we've seen in the past few months. Get religion away from politics and everyone will play at least a little more nicely.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:50 PM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is this really a big change? There has always been a religious left, with a large chunk of Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutherans (among others) that has tended to be liberal. I don't think that the Republicans have had sole ownership of churchgoing voters, ever. But it was Karl Rove's machinations that put the right wing religious types in bed with the GOP.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 3:56 PM on July 24, 2013 [15 favorites]


Religious conservatives make up smaller proportions of each successive generation, from 47% of the Silent Generation, 34% of Baby Boomers, 23% of Generation X, and 17% of Millennials.
Thank goodness.
posted by Flunkie at 3:56 PM on July 24, 2013 [28 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: Which, to me, doesn't explain the incredible amount of crazy-illegal anti-women's health/abortion laws we've seen in the past few months.

The crazification factor of the population is 27%.
posted by Decimask at 3:58 PM on July 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


When we have 3 in 5 Americans who are Atheists, call me.
posted by Chuffy at 3:59 PM on July 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


The religious left has a long history in this country, but had largely been marginalized in the discourse with the rise of the bible thumping evangelical megachurch, which thankfully seems to be in a period of stagnation, if not decline.
posted by wierdo at 4:00 PM on July 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


When we have 3 in 5 Americans who are Atheists, call me.

But hardly anyone will believe in you!
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:01 PM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yay.
posted by Miko at 4:01 PM on July 24, 2013


Which, to me, doesn't explain the incredible amount of crazy-illegal anti-women's health/abortion laws we've seen in the past few months.

You don't have to be religious to be a misogynist.

That aside, this is really hopeful news. It will be interesting over the next few decades to see how this plays out. When I was reading the articles, the phrase "Moral Monday" came up and I immediately cringed, then realized that the hyper-conservative religious right has really managed to co-opt a lot of the language about values/morality/religion in general, and I'm wondering if the vocabulary is like to shift the other way or if the religious left will end up using its own terminology.
posted by NoraReed at 4:02 PM on July 24, 2013 [20 favorites]


But it was Karl Rove's machinations that put the right wing religious types in bed with the GOP.

Er, no. This was a phenomenon that began developing in the '60s and made its major showing in 1980 (i.e. Reaganism). Rove was the guy who rode its apex, and now it's on a decline that is more or less demographically inevitable.
posted by graymouser at 4:03 PM on July 24, 2013 [18 favorites]


Yeah, I was gonna say, it was Lee Atwater's machinations.
posted by Miko at 4:05 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The mere fact that we are here, and the mere fact that we sing and pray, and come to church—we believe in God. Well, there’s some truth in that. But we must remember that it’s possible to affirm the existence of God with your lips and deny his existence with your life. The most dangerous type of atheism is not theoretical atheism, but practical atheism —that’s the most dangerous type.

And the world, even the church, is filled up with people who pay lip service to God and not life service. And there is always a danger that we will make it appear externally that we believe in God when internally we don’t.

We say with our mouths that we believe in him, but we live with our lives like he never existed. That is the ever-present danger confronting religion. That’s a dangerous type of atheism.
MLK
posted by elpapacito at 4:07 PM on July 24, 2013 [24 favorites]


My most politically active friends are often the most religious as well. Lots of liberals, or at least unconservative moderates, among them.

Non-dogmatic religion promotes thinking of people you don't know like they're your brothers, social responsibility, and the idea that people are fundamentally good. I don't mind the non-extreme religious faith, the sort that's, like, rooted in the scientific method and doesn't believe in Sky Dad. There's a lot of that, and I hope that with time it overrides the Sky Dad mentality to bring about a generation of sane, nice people.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:09 PM on July 24, 2013


It's weird for those of us who have always been progressive members of mainline denominations, which have always (in my lifetime) been concerned with social justice and just generally being a decent human being. Many, many of my friends in NC who are Presbyterians, Methodists, AME, Episcopalians, Lutherans, UCC, and (American, not Southern) Baptists have been arrested at Moral Mondays this summer. And then, suddenly, evangelicals have discovered progressive politics and theology, and they act like they invented the whole thing and are shocked to find a bunch of us have always been here. Our church buildings are old (and so are many of our members), we generally don't have rock bands or gyms, our pastors usually don't have goatees (especially since a lot of them are women), we do weird liturgy stuff you don't understand, and we are old school when it comes to social justice.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:12 PM on July 24, 2013 [52 favorites]


The trend they describe is that religious conservatives shrink in numbers per generation, which I think is very encouraging. Religious conservatism's past, as others have pointed out, does go back farther than Reagan, although boy did it hit its stride then. But religious progressives go back pretty far, too - there were religious groups who opposed both world wars, and there's the Catonsville 9, MLK and so forth. I might be cynical, but I think people view their religion through the lens of their values, rather than the reverse, so an upward swing in religious progressives might indicate, I hope anyway, an increasing progressiveness in the public in general.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:17 PM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Does anyone know why religious conservatives are shrinking every generation?
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 4:19 PM on July 24, 2013


I keep reading stories about the Republicans' shrinking demographics, and yet...
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:23 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


And then, suddenly, evangelicals have discovered progressive politics and theology, and they act like they invented the whole thing

Well, speaking as a longtime progressive mainline, I don't think what we're seeing is really evangelicals discovering progressivism. What I've been seeing with groups like the Christian Left and elsewhere is a return to religious practice and profession by people who were formerly disaffected - people who grew up in a faith (often a mainline one) but got alienated as they lost their focus on the social agenda (which really did happen at a macro level), or who got alienated from the dogma of more authoritarian religions, particularly Catholicism, and pursued no religious practice for a long time because of it. Those people have been linking up over the last few years in ways largely independent of the limitations of geography and congregations, and in ways facilitated by the internet, to discover a lot of like-minded, similar individuals and find common cause with them. In some cases that has resulted in renewed interest in bringing progressivism back into physical church communities.
posted by Miko at 4:23 PM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Does anyone know why religious conservatives are shrinking every generation?

Because it's harder to scream "burn all the fags in hell" if you've grown up with someone all your life and they come out to you while you're still in your 20s and have idealism and compassion.
posted by Talez at 4:23 PM on July 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


The dominance of the right in Christianity has always sort of puzzled me. As a kid who was raised on the Bible, Jesus just struck me as a lefty rabble-rouser. I suppose if you focus on the Old Testament law or certain aspects of Pauline doctrine you can swing the pendulum rightward, but Jesus' message seems about as opposed as I can imagine to conservative religion and politics. By which I mean feeding the poor, a pox on the rich, tolerance of others, moving past the dominance of Old Testament law, etc. The conservative dominance of the intersection of religion and politics felt artificial and inflated -- perhaps that particular bubble is about to pop.
posted by vverse23 at 4:25 PM on July 24, 2013 [26 favorites]


Does anyone know why religious conservatives are shrinking every generation?

Well, it's a poll, so it's just the numbers. The percentage of religious conservatives is smaller in successively younger age groups. The issues religious progressives are passionate about include immigration reform, gun control, labor rights and economic inequality. These are progressive issues in general, religious and secular alike, so it could reflect an increasing level of progressiveness with the generations coming up, Millennials in particular.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:28 PM on July 24, 2013


The dominance of the right in Christianity has always sort of puzzled me. As a kid who was raised on the Bible, Jesus just struck me as a lefty rabble-rouser. I suppose if you focus on the Old Testament law or certain aspects of Pauline doctrine you can swing the pendulum rightward, but Jesus' message seems about as opposed as I can imagine to conservative religion and politics. By which I mean feeding the poor, a pox on the rich, tolerance of others, moving past the dominance of Old Testament law, etc. The conservative dominance of the intersection of religion and politics felt artificial and inflated -- perhaps that particular bubble is about to pop.

One thing I've discovered after, ahem, discussing, ahem, social welfare with the batshit right evangelical in-laws is that Christianity is more about line item vetos on Leviticus rather than any sort of adherence towards what Christ actually said.
posted by Talez at 4:32 PM on July 24, 2013 [20 favorites]


Looks like my observations are borne out in the report:
the largest single group of religious progressives are Catholic, who make up nearly 3-in-10 of this coalition; followed by white mainline Protestants (19%), religious floaters who are not formally associated with a religious tradition [love that term!] but who nevertheless say that religion is at least somewhat important in their lives (18%), and non-Christian religious Americans such as Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims (13%). Notably, white evangelical Protestants constitute only 4% of religious progressives. By contrast, white evangelical Protestants constitute more than 4-in-10 (43%) of religious conservatives...
So it's not evangelicals driving this.
posted by Miko at 4:33 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, this really seems like an old thing to me, a longstanding part of US culture at least as old as, heck, mid-1700s Quakers like John Woolman. There have always been many religious people involved in social justice movements, unions, etc., etc. The loudmouth pinhead right-wing fundamentalists in recent decades have simply lumped religious progressives in with "godless liberals," but that doesn't make it an accurate characterization.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:34 PM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


The dominance of the right in Christianity has always sort of puzzled me.

Bear in mind that for the last fifty to sixty years there has been a concerted effort to sell Satanism as Christianity.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:36 PM on July 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


Miko: I totally hear you, but it still seems like some of the loudest voices online identifying as "Christian Left" also identify as evangelicals, like the "emergents" and Jim Wallis at Sojourners.

I agree that Christian Left does not seem to be simply like that (their theology seems to be all over the place, which is fine with me), and there are many strong voices coming out of the denominations and seminaries, but they don't seem to get the same kind of press as a Tony Jones or a Brian McLaren. I think it's the lack of goatees.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:36 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


right evangelical in-laws is that Christianity is more about

This discussion might go better if we don't equate "Christianity" with Christian conservatism - that's the point of the piece, after all.

I love that the 2nd part of the report begins by recognizing nuance and difference within the category "religious" - something we really fail to do very often.
In our analysis, it quickly became clear that identifying religious progressives would also be challenging due to the complex relationships between theological beliefs, opinions on social issues, and opinions on economic issues. For example, an individual can be liberal on economic issues while adopting conservative positions on social issues. Likewise, some prominent evangelical and Catholic leaders have argued that theological conservatism can be consistent with political progressivism. In order to allow for these complex relationships, we developed three independent scales for each dimension, and then combined them into a final composite scale to create a map of the American religious landscape consisting of religious progressives, religious moderates, religious conservatives, and nonreligious Americans
If we can discuss a report whose analysts were smart enough to recognize that there are distinctions between theological stances and political stances, and that describing these variations is "complex," surely we can be smart enough to recognize such variations within broad categories such as "Christian."
posted by Miko at 4:38 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


If the GOP was good enough for Jesus Christ, children, it's good enough for you.
posted by spitbull at 4:40 PM on July 24, 2013


Hydropsyche, I think you're right that they get more visibility. I think there's probably just more novelty/news value in talking about evangelicals who are, or have become, progessive (sometimes pretty recently) than in denominations who have been that way so long that it's not a very sexy story.
posted by Miko at 4:40 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


cycles

The "religious left" held a fair amount of power in it's time. Then the 70s saw a gradual erosion,perhaps because of the sheer decadence of the decade? who knows. But Raygun certainly capitalized on the "religious right's" surge of political activism and organization. And now... 30 years later as the cycle turns we are seeing some waning of the RR's influence for various reasons, and the RL has been increasingly organized and active. Here's hoping it continues, because although I am seriously a-religious I harbor zero illusions that religion will ever cease to be a major force, nor do I think atheists are any better or worse caretakers of morality and correct behavior then non atheists. I certainly hope they/we achiever greater representation, but in the same way I hope Muslims and people who are gay or whatever do as well.
posted by edgeways at 4:41 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The triumphalism over irrational behavior now being a leftwing thing is a little disturbing here. Why not eradicate it before it's too late? (i.e. before the economic downturn gets even worse and we get a religion-fueled dictatorship)
posted by DU at 4:42 PM on July 24, 2013


Why not eradicate it before it's too late?

For me, it helps fuel my continued activism and offers a practice that helps me cultivate much-needed compassion. Not so eager to throw that out, though compassion is pretty irrational, I admit.
posted by Miko at 4:43 PM on July 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


I don't care what motivates someone to fight for social justice. Your dad was a progressive, you think Jesus was, the neighbor's incessantly barking dog told you to, whatever. If you want a more compassionate world and that's what prompted you to do something about it, awesome.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:46 PM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


> Why not eradicate it before it's too late?

What do you mean by "eradicate"? Who and how?
posted by planetesimal at 4:47 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


yeah, no shit
posted by edgeways at 4:48 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Could start with studying (and promulgating the results of) the causes of religious thinking.
posted by DU at 4:54 PM on July 24, 2013


Like they already do in state university religious degree tracts?
posted by planetesimal at 4:55 PM on July 24, 2013


The triumphalism over irrational behavior now being a leftwing thing is a little disturbing here.

Some of the worst human beings on earth (Ayn Rand, anyone?) proudly wave the banner of the Rational Thinker. It doesn't make their ideas and/or actions one iota less odious.
posted by Atom Eyes at 4:57 PM on July 24, 2013 [17 favorites]


The point of eradicating religion is not to stop the leaders from existing. It's to stop the followers from be trained to believe without thought.

Has no one here studied history? Economic downturn + religion is a recipe for disaster.
posted by DU at 5:00 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


But I can see this is pointless. Once again, as with torture and wiretapping and now religion, once it's "our side" doing it it's suddenly not so bad.
posted by DU at 5:01 PM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Could start with studying (and promulgating the results of) the causes of religious thinking.

You say that as though you think it would stop me being religious, or as though I don't already know about this.

It's to stop the followers from be trained to believe without thought.

It sounds like you believe religious believers do not think and make choices about what they do in their religious practice, and what they believe about existence. Or that they are "trained," in some way that other members of society are not trained, in a certain kind of thinking from which they can't break free.

Economic downturn + religion is a recipe for disaster.

You know who else had a recipe for disaster? A guy into eradicating religions. This isn't a sensical line of argument.
posted by Miko at 5:02 PM on July 24, 2013 [19 favorites]


It's to stop the followers from be trained to believe without thought.

If we have people reading the same Bible, yet championing very different political causes, there is most certainly thought going on. You are trying to fight a non-existent problem. Policy is the problem; not religion.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:03 PM on July 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


People coming to a good conclusion by faulty logic is not a good thing, because the conclusion they've come to is essentially arbitrary and can be changed by equally arbitrary things. We need to be coming to valid conclusion by valid arguments.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:05 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


You don't think the religious people championing economic equality and immigration reform are doing this for any reasons other than "I think Jesus told me to"?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:06 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I tend to think weaknesses within human nature are the problem. There are a lot of ways those weaknesses express themselves. And there are a lot of ways they can be mitigated. Religion, and atheism, exist on both sides of that behavioral project.

We need to be coming to valid conclusion by valid arguments.

I'm not sure what this even means. Can you give an example of some of the kinds of valid conclusions you think we all need to come to?
posted by Miko at 5:06 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


DU: "Once again, as with torture and wiretapping and now religion, once it's "our side" doing it it's suddenly not so bad."

"Our side" has always "done it," if by "it" you mean been religious. I'm an atheist but I was raised among religious progressives and nothing they think or do has any business being compared to torture or wiretapping.
posted by brundlefly at 5:11 PM on July 24, 2013 [15 favorites]


You don't think the religious people championing economic equality and immigration reform are doing this for any reasons other than "I think Jesus told me to"?

I didn't say that. You said you don't care why people come to the conclusions they do, as long as they agree with you, and I said that was not a good position.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:12 PM on July 24, 2013


The dominance of the right in Christianity has always sort of puzzled me

It's struck me for a while that there's a stripe of people -- I wouldn't want to guess how prevalent -- who seem to be really falling on their knees to worship Traditional America, with the Standardized American Jesus* as America's avatar. Instead of worshiping the God of Abraham and Moses and the Apostles, it's the god of Ward and June Cleaver, which never had much to do with Christ.

*You know, the one that looks like a history grad student
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:12 PM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


[Folks maybe make an effort to discuss the topic of this thread and not jumping immediately to fighting with each other. Please?]
posted by jessamyn at 5:12 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I didn't say that. You said you don't care why people come to the conclusions they do, as long as they agree with you, and I said that was not a good position.

I said I don't care what motivates them to do what they do; not how they came to their conclusions. People draw inspiration from all kinds of things, real and imagined, to act on the conclusions they came to. I think people view their faith through the lens of the way they want the world to be; not the reverse. But it's beside the point, anyway, as you and I both know that religious progressives have arrived at their conclusions about social justice through more than the ability to read scripture. Just to clarify there.

Wrt the links: Religious people becoming progressively more, well, progressive the younger the age bracket is one thing, but the diversity of these people is what I think is what eventually could overtake religious conservatism. If age by itself was the sole data point, the numbers could very well flip with age (see the transformation the Boomers have taken, for one), but the diversity of background, while religious conservatives are somewhat more monolithic, is probably what will undercut religious conservatism more than a generational factor, at least to a longer-lasting degree anyway.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:23 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


The dominance of the right in Christianity has always sort of puzzled me
It seems pretty natural to me, actually. Generally speaking, the right seems very authoritarian to me -- both trying to impose their own authority on those they feel superior to and blindly respecting the authority of those they feel are above them -- and there's no conceivable bigger authority than an all-powerful, all-knowing being.

A holy book that's chock full of quotes commanding you to do this and not to do that is icing on the cake.
posted by Flunkie at 5:34 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Generally speaking, the right seems very authoritarian to me -- both trying to impose their own authority on those they feel superior to and blindly respecting the authority of those they feel are above them -- and there's no conceivable bigger authority than an all-powerful, all-knowing being. A holy book that's chock full of quotes commanding you to do this and not to do that is icing on the cake.

Except the point of that book is to keep reading past the end of the Old Testament.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:37 PM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


A Psychedelic Christianity
posted by telstar at 5:40 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Eh, that's what you think the point is. They seem to disagree to a large extent, at least based on their actions. Some people take the good parts to heart, and others take the bad parts. While I would prefer that people take the good parts, that doesn't change the fact that the bad parts are in there, nor that both types of people have their convoluted reasoning for why the other parts are to be ignored.
posted by Flunkie at 5:41 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Except the point of that book is to keep reading past the end of the Old Testament.

Exactly. Without trying to Google the exact quotes and instead depending on my admittedly hazy memory of Scripture, the authors of the New Testament alluded multiple times to the dissolution of the old law.
posted by vverse23 at 5:46 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Religious conservatives make up smaller proportions of each successive generation, from 47% of the Silent Generation, 34% of Baby Boomers, 23% of Generation X, and 17% of Millennials.

Hmmm...That could also imply that religious people get more conservative as they get older, not that there will be fewer religious conservatives.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:49 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Without trying to Google the exact quotes and instead depending on my admittedly hazy memory of Scripture, the authors of the New Testament alluded multiple times to the dissolution of the old law.
This is an example of what I'm saying. Jesus is directly quoted as saying that the law would not change, not one jot, not one tittle, till heaven and earth disappear. People who don't like the obvious meaning of that have their reasoning for why it doesn't really mean what it seems to plainly mean, yadda yadda yadda.
posted by Flunkie at 5:50 PM on July 24, 2013


Oh, I don't call for the ignoring of the bad parts. In fact, I think awareness of the bad parts throws the good parts into better relief - and makes them more....achieveable? Or something? In a sense it kind of...humanizes Deity, that warts-and-all look at things. Knocks the Deity off the pedestal a little and adds some shading. And shading helps a two-dimensional portrait look 3-D.

In fact, I think a reluctance to acknowledge the bad parts - or to pick and choose what you want from Scripture - is more so what leads to that kind of fundamentalist thinking. If you only read what you like, you're more easily lulled into a sense that "because the Bible says it that makes it so and I am not required to think about it," and so that makes it easier for someone else to come along and say "well, look here, the Bible says [foo]" and you just go with it. Whereas, if you read some of the unsavory parts on your own - all of them - then that gives you pause and makes you more likely to say "hang on a minute." And that leads you to being more likely to respond to the people who say "look, the Bible says [foo]" by saying, "well, that's because at the time it was written, the culture said [baz], and so a modern comparison would be [schmeh] which is totally different." It's the kind of thing that leads to a more nuanced - and often, a more progressive - approach.

Interestingly, that's one reason that Bono got so good at convincing uber-conservative politicians to pledge more support to combatting the AIDS crisis - he had enough of a familiarity with Scripture that he was able to convincingly argue that AIDS today was pretty much exactly like leprosy in Jesus' time, and "well, you know how Jesus treated lepers, so...."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:52 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Fundamentalism is a protest against all these definitions which the modern man finds it necessary to make. It is avowedly a reaction within the Protestant communions against what the President of the World's Christian Fundamentalist Association rather accurately described as "that weasel method of sucking the meaning out of words, and then presenting empty shells in an attempt to palm them off as giving the Christian faith a new and another interpretation." In actual practice this movement has become entangled with all sorts of bizarre and barbarous agitations, with the Ku Klux Klan, with fanatical prohibition, with the "anti-evolution laws," and with much persecution and intolerance. This in itself is significant. For it shows that the central truth, which the fundamentalists have grasped, no longer appeals to the best brains and the good sense of a modern community, and that the movement is recruited largely from the isolated, the inexperienced, and the uneducated.
...
There is also a reasoned cased against the modernists. Fortunately this case has been stated in a little book called Christianity and Liberalism by a man who is both a scholar and a gentlemen. The author is Professor Machen...

Modernism, he says, "is altogether the imperative mood," while the traditional religion "begins with a triumphant indicative." I do not see how one can deny the force of this generalization. "From the beginning Christianity was certainly a way of life. But how was the life to be produced? Not by appealing to the human will, but by telling a story; not by exhortation, but by the narration of an event." Dr Machen insists, rightly I think, that the historic influence of Christianity on the mass of men has depended on their belief that an historic drama was enacted in Palestine nineteen hundred years ago during the reign of Emperor Tiberius. The veracity of the story was fundamental to the Christian Church...

The liberals have yet to answer Dr. Machen when he says that "the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but on an account of facts." It was based on the story of the birth, the life, the ministry, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That story set forth the facts which certify the Christian experience. Modernism, which in varying degree casts doubt upon the truth of that story, may therefore be defined as an attempt to preserve selected parts of the experience after the facts which inspired it have been rejected. The orthodox believer may be mistaken as to the facts in which he believes. But he is not mistaken in thinking that you cannot, for the mass of men, have a faith of which the only foundation is their need and desire to believe. The historic churches, without any important exceptions, I think, have founded faith on clear statements about matters of fact, historic events, or physical manifestations. They have never been content with symbolism which the believer knew was merely symbolic. Only the sophisticated in their private meditations and in esoteric writing have found satisfaction in symbolism as such.

Complete as was Dr. Machen's victory over the Protestant liberals, he did not long remain in possession of the field. There is a deeper fundamentalism than his, and it is based on a longer continuous experience. This is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. From a priest of that church, Father Riggs, has come the most searching criticism of Dr. Machen's case. Writing in the Commonweal Father Riggs points out that "the fundamentalists are well-nigh powerless. They are estopped, so to speak, from stemming the ravaging waters of agnosticism because they cannot, while remaining loyal to the [Protestant] reformers... set limits to the destructive criticism of the Bible without making an un-Protestant appeal to tradition." Father Riggs, in other words, is asking the Protestant fundamentalists, like Dr. Machen, how they can be certain that they know these facts upon which they assert that the Christian religion is founded.

They must reply that they know them from reading the Bible. This reply is, however, unsatisfying. For obviously there are many ways of reading the Bible, and therefore the Protestant who demands the right of private judgment can never know with absolute certainty that his reading is the correct one. His position in a skeptical age is, therefore, as Father Riggs points out, a weak one, because a private judgement is, after all, only a private judgement. The history of Protestantism shows that the exercise of private judgement as to the meaning of Scripture leads not to universal and undeniable dogma, but to schism within schism and heresy within heresy. From the point of view, then, of the oldest fundamentalism of the western world the error of modernists is that they deny the facts on which religious faith reposes; the error of the orthodox Protestants is that although they affirm the facts, they reject all authority which can verify them; the virtue of the Catholic system is that long with a dogmatic affirmation of the central facts, it provides a living authority in the Church which can ascertain and demonstrate and verify those facts.

The long record of clerical opposition to certain kinds of scientific inquiry has a touch of dignity when it is realized that at the core of that opposition there is a very profound understanding of the religious needs of ordinary men. For once you weaken the belief that the central facts taught by the churches are facts in the most literal and absolute sense, the disintegration of popular religion begins. We may confidently declare that Mr. Santayana is speaking not as a student of human nature, but as a cultivated unbeliever, when he writes that "the idea that religion creates a literal, not a symbolic, representation of truth and life is simply an impossible idea." The idea is impossible, no doubt, for the children of the great emancipation. But because it is impossible, religion itself, in the traditional popular meaning of the term, has become impossible for them.

If it is true that man creates God in his own image, it is no less true that for religious devotion he must remain unconscious of that fact. Once he knows that he has created the image of God, the reality of it vanishes like last night's dream. It may be that to anyone who is impregnated with the modern spirit it is almost self-evident that the truths of religions are truths of human experience. But this knowledge does not tolerate an abiding and absorbing faith. For when the truths of religion have lost their connection with a superhuman order, the cord of their life is cut. What remains is a somewhat archaic, a somewhat questionable, although a very touching, quaint medley of poetry, rhetoric, fable, exhortation, and insight into human travail. When Mr. Santayana says that "matters of religion should never be matters of controversy" because "we never argue with a lover about his taste, nor condemn him, if we are just, for knowing so human a passion," he expresses an ultimate unbelief.

For what would be the plight of a lover, if we told him that his passion was charming?—though, of course, there might be no such lady as the one he loved.

—Walter Lippman, "A Preface to Morals", 1929
I don't have much to add to that, except that to say the final play of the fundamentalists, which was embracing the Right so the Right could embrace the disenfranchised fundamentalists while tolerating their bigoted elements in exchange for their votes, has simply started falling apart.

Homophobia, just like the Ku Klux Klan became in the 30s, is now (and properly) a complete embarrassment to most people. Even among the most devout, the opinion of their children matters, and their children cannot accept that their friends at school are the enemies of God or even the enemies of Good. Unwittingly the religious Right has accidentally prepared their own poison pill: for decades they have been declaring the end of civilization because God hates Gays, but now that fear is absurd and even pitiable to the newest generations. The message has to keep changing, but after that point is given up, a literal interpretation of the bible comes impossible. Impossible not only to anyone who has bothered to read the bible, but impossible for anyone who has ever heard of Billy Graham, or Michelle Bachmann, or Paul Ryan.

I think we will continue to see the fundamentalists, who are still unable to hold up any literal interpretation in front of an educated audience, become more strident in an attempt to strike the fear they feel in their own hearts into others. They will continue to cherry pick a single scripture every sunday, lest one of the flock accidentally stumble on the backwardness and strangeness of most of the bible, or turn their church into a place like Joel O'Steen's Superdrome where people come together to worship money and the betterment of themselves. But those are actually emptier religious experiences than what has been delivered by the progressive church for years.

The hypocrites and the Pharisees, so long focused on the narrow interpretations of their own hateful view of the world, have no audience left. They will preach the end of the world, the world will stubbornly go on living, and I hope we can all put the idea behind us that any human institution can encompass God, if God exists in the first place.
posted by deanklear at 5:54 PM on July 24, 2013 [15 favorites]


Except the point of that book is to keep reading past the end of the Old Testament.

You... must be kidding. "The point?" Yeesh.

Signed,
A Jew
posted by Wordwoman at 5:55 PM on July 24, 2013 [14 favorites]


To me at least - progressive Christianity is a bit weird and contradictory. Jesus said some nice things, but the epistles of Paul are really not in line with feminism in any way, and coming up with interpretations that aren't anti-gay are really hard. Especially with Catholicism placing so highly in the percentage of progressive Christians. When the Church tells you that voting for a pro-choice candidate is a sin, for a progressive, there's some cognitive dissonance going on.

It's good that people are more on the left as a general trend. But I think there are problems in progressive Christianity intellectually and as a movement (particularly in Catholicism where you're reliant on a clergy that is still policed for orthodoxy) that both limit how far it will go on the scale of progress, and tend to erode its support and longevity.

So it's not a trend I think is discouraging, but not one that I think the left can rely on for its future. There is always the concern that Christianity leaves open a lot of space for young progressives to become dramatically more conservative.

I don't think it's useful to talk about it in terms mocking or disparaging belief in God, mostly because that's just not productive. At the same time, I do think it's sometimes necessary to critique institutions like the Catholic Church that have leadership that is egregiously bad on social and political questions.
posted by graymouser at 5:55 PM on July 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


.That could also imply that religious people get more conservative as they get older, not that there will be fewer religious conservatives.

In general that "people get more conservative as they get older" thing doesn't seem to be true. Unless it were disproportionately true for religiously inclined people, but that seems a stretch.
posted by Miko at 5:58 PM on July 24, 2013


I don't know. I'm pretty certain that you can't easily talk a person out of their philosophical/metaphysical beliefs, and if I only collaborated with LGBT people who shared my beliefs, there probably wouldn't be any activism or movement.

My primary point of conflict with religious progressives is when they pull the same "faith in faith" argument as conservatives that my entirely non-theistic morality and sensibility (which ironically is stricter than theirs on some issues) is a threat to civilization, culture, and community (never mind the fact that people like me have been a part of congregations like theirs for over a century now).
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:00 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Miko: " So it's not evangelicals driving this."

This is because the evangelicals think of Jesus as more Rambo than New Testament. Their theology, such as it is, basically consists of the Old Testament plus Revelations. They have this false sense of being oppressed by the gay liberal atheist jew muslims, so they pick out the parts of the bible that they find most relevant to that mindset.

No, it doesn't make any sense whatsoever historically, but these are also many, if not most, of the people who truly believe the Earth is 6,000 years old and that Genesis is literally how the universe and the Earth came to be. They use that belief (and the impending rapture) to justify the reading that says that everything on this planet is ours to do with as we please, consequences be damned.

There is also a large intersection between evangelicals and people who say things like "I'm glad my daddy's got a gun" in response to the news that Obama was reelected. They expect humankind to go feral any second now, so they largely have no sense of conservation. Combine that with the "war" footing and they end up acting like a great big bunch of assholes at almost every turn.

To be fair, many of the megachurches do send significant aid to disaster areas, among their other good qualities, but that's largely overshadowed in my mind by the constant mistrust and othering coming from that religious persuasion.
posted by wierdo at 6:01 PM on July 24, 2013


Jesus is directly quoted as saying that the law would not change, not one jot, not one tittle, till heaven and earth disappear.

Jesus also said that the law was "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Also, let me put back in the rest of the context of the quote you removed FROM it - “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." In other words - Jesus wasn't saying "this law shouldn't be monkeyed with ever ever ever so there," He was saying, "no, no, you don't get it, I'm not saying the laws are crap, I'm just saying there's a better way to heed them, and I'm doing it."

Frankly, for someone who's spoken about how unfortunate it is that some people pick and choose parts of the Bible, I'm surprised you did some cherry-picking yourself.

You... must be kidding. "The point?" Yeesh.
Signed, A Jew


I left out a key phrase, my apologies - that's the point when it comes to passing judgement on the Christian Bible. We need the Cliffs Notes - the Torah didn't. :-)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:01 PM on July 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


Well heck, the Torah has a far larger amount of "authoritarian" content than the Bible does, yet there's still a big-ass tradition* of progressive leftytude in American Judaism (as well as authoritarianism), so the "Bible naturally promotes authoritarian outlook" argument seems fairly absurd.

What I would really like to see is some reliable stats on how many Christians of different denominations and political leanings have actually read the text in question, and how much of it they've read, as opposed to having an authority figure tell them what it ostensibly says.

*arguably big-assier than Christian progressivism
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:01 PM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


but the epistles of Paul are really not in line with feminism in any way

Blasdelb had a really informative comment about "porneia"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:07 PM on July 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


...rooted in the scientific method and doesn't believe in Sky Dad. There's a lot of that, and I hope that with time it overrides the Sky Dad mentality...

I don't think a Sky-Dad belief is so much the trouble as levels of certainty people assume about what Sky Dad thinks, and even that isn't really troublesome on its own. It's when people take it upon themselves to be the personal enforcer of ostensibly divine directives that trouble starts.

Jesus is directly quoted as saying that the law would not change, not one jot, not one tittle, till heaven and earth disappear. People who don't like the obvious meaning of that have their reasoning for why it doesn't really mean what it seems to plainly mean, yadda yadda yadda.

1) It's not obvious or plain that "no change to behavior codes/rituals" is what the text means, particularly when considering it broadly rather than as a whole

2) While the OT often seems like the more foreign text in the two-testament division, it's not as if the entirety of the OT is austere rule-giving which doesn't support progressive approaches.
posted by weston at 6:07 PM on July 24, 2013


Let me just interject here that the term "religious conservatives" should, in this context, be parsed to mean "politically conservative religious types," not "theologically conservative religious types." As it turns out, the overlap between the two is a lot smaller than you probably think.

The Religious Right is viewed by large chunks of the Christian church--the confessional branches mainly--as being not that far removed from civil religion. Its doctrine is mushy at best, and its organizing principles have far more to do with nationalism than any particularly Christian identity. The Religious Right is superficially theologically conservative, in that they do tend to think that the Bible is important, miracles are real, etc., but they're modernists through and through.

In that sense, they're really the flip side of the modernist coin, the other side being. . . the religious left! Both the Religious Right and the Religious Left care far more about social and political causes than historic Christian orthodoxy. They want very different things for the country, but they are primarily organized about wanting those things.

And the branches of the church that do their best to stick to historic Christian orthodoxy? They tend to be pretty apolitical. Which shouldn't come as much of a surprise given the deep, lasting influence of the concepts developed in part by Augustine in The City of God. Specifically, the idea that Christians' primary allegiance is not to any institution in this world, or even to the world as such, but to the kingdom of heaven.

This is why the Romans periodically persecuted the church: early Christians' utter refusal to concede that Caesar is lord. Which is arguably what both the Religious Right and the Religious Left are quite eager to affirm. Litmus test: if your feelings about President Obama, pro or con, are significantly related to your religious commitments, I'd argue that your allegiance is to the wrong city.

Which is why this impression:

To me at least - progressive Christianity is a bit weird and contradictory.

. . .is absolutely spot on. Progressive Christianity is weird and contradictory, because you need to ignore or explain away big chunks of both Old and New Testaments--including some of Jesus' own teachings--to get anything that looks remotely like progressivism. Of course, you need to do precisely the same thing to get anything that looks like the Religious Right too, but the basic insight is still valid.

This puts theological conservatives, as distinct from "religious conservatives" as discussed above, in something of a bind. Politics at this point is exclusively a product of Enlightenment modernity with no room for a religious world. On one hand, we've got a party that has superficially positive ethical mores but which seems to hate the poor with all its might. On the other hand, we've got a party that has superficially positive social justice intuitions but which has staked its political capital on killing as many babies as possible.* Exactly which of those are we supposed to choose?

*I don't want to hear about it. Abortion is for the DNC what gun rights are for the GOP: completely irrational.
posted by valkyryn at 6:10 PM on July 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't think atheism per se is any more a guarantee of socially just politics than religion is. This FPP is not even about religious vs. non-religious. I'm encouraged to read that social justice is more of a thing within Christian religion.

For what it is worth, there really are some interesting thinkers within predominately Christian theological circles, for example, those working in Feminist Theology. In my view, there are also some pretty transparent rationalizations for bad behavior, as well. Such as the "Prosperity Gospel" as it has developed from the days of Oral Roberts through the heyday of former ORU student Joel Osteen, now leading the new generation of televangelists. With something for almost everyone, Dominion Theology is used not only to give impetus to the religious right in political circles but also to justify disdain for ecological measures especially when they threaten immediate prosperity.

While there is a thinker to be found for every brand of self interest, in my book, the first commandment is "Thou shalt not do thine own meanness in God's (or Reason's) name." Republican conservatives (who are aging, thanks be) are not the only ones who can't seem to keep that commandment.
posted by Anitanola at 6:13 PM on July 24, 2013


People coming to a good conclusion by faulty logic is not a good thing, because the conclusion they've come to is essentially arbitrary and can be changed by equally arbitrary things. We need to be coming to valid conclusion by valid arguments.

If you're saying we need to replace religion with a rational basis for moral behavior, good luck with that. Philosophers have been trying for a long time and haven't come up with much of any consensus amongst themselves, much less anything that would be found compelling outside of academia.
posted by straight at 6:14 PM on July 24, 2013


People coming to a good conclusion by faulty logic is not a good thing, because the conclusion they've come to is essentially arbitrary and can be changed by equally arbitrary things. We need to be coming to valid conclusion by valid arguments.

Wow, an atheist purity-of-thought approach. That's the kind of thing I expect to hear during congregational infighting, but I guess all us humans are prone to it.

I personally think "I want to be a good person and have a good effect on the world," is a perfectly valid basis from which to take action. Whether you do so just because or in order to honor a deity that you admire doesn't really matter. Your actions do.
posted by emjaybee at 6:14 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


the man of twists and turns: That long comment admits that the marital relationship is basically patriarchal ("headship") no matter how nice of a face you try to put on it. Islam was also relatively good to women for its time, but is in no way a good model for modern feminism. There is also the bit about a woman not being allowed to teach men, which to their credit a lot of mainline Protestants just seem to toss aside. Again, I think it is a structural weakness of progressive Christianity that it creates these areas of difficult nuance and cognitive dissonance. In this I'm not slamming progressive Christians, just saying that I don't see them as a force the left can count on in the long run.
posted by graymouser at 6:18 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jesus also said that the law was "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Yes, and Christians who want their good moral system to comport with their flawed religion often seem to me to interpret "the first and great" as "the only" in an attempt to dismiss the bad parts of the Old Testament. This is another example of what I was saying.

But even ignoring that, I'm not really sure what your point is. I'm not arguing that the Old Testament should be followed. I'm arguing that there's all sorts of stuff in the Bible that can be -- and are -- interpreted in all sorts of ways to support all sorts of mutually contradictory positions. Bringing up something that can be used to support the view that "the law" is no longer required seems to back my point, not refute it.

But anyway, whatever. I'm not going to continue this derail further. My original point was merely that an all-powerful, all-knowing god, whose holy book is full of commands, seems obviously enticing to people who are susceptible to authority, such as (in my opinion) a large portion of right wingers, and thus it's not at all surprising to me (as it was to the poster I was responding to) that the right would be heavily drawn to such a religion. If you feel that you are not bound by those commands from that book which are at best morally questionable, that's fine by me, and in fact I'd prefer it, but it really is neither here nor there with respect to what I was originally saying.
posted by Flunkie at 6:19 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


DU: "Economic downturn + religion is a recipe for disaster."

More like Economic downturn + factionalized populace
posted by wierdo at 6:28 PM on July 24, 2013


Sorry for the derail, but all the "Sky Dad" stuff reminded me of something I learned recently from the History of English podcast. I am sure most of you are familiar with the Latin word "pater" (father). Well, in proto Indo-European, the word for "sky" is Dyēus (also where we get "Zeus" and "Deity"). In early proto-Latin, you get dyew-patēr -- Jupiter -- literally Sky-Father. Blew my mind that I had never noticed that, right in front of me.

I now return you to your Christian Left discussion.
posted by fings at 6:29 PM on July 24, 2013 [24 favorites]


fings, there's also an ancient Indian god Dyaus Pita, meaning the same.
posted by Flunkie at 6:35 PM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Again, I think it is a structural weakness of progressive Christianity that it creates these areas of difficult nuance and cognitive dissonance. In this I'm not slamming progressive Christians, just saying that I don't see them as a force the left can count on in the long run.

I'm always sort of mystified by this worldview. Currently, something like 85% of the Democrats in Congress identify as Christians, and presumably most of whom would fall on the "Christian Progressive" scale. If you add all religious people (lots of Jews plus a handful of Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims), then Congress pretty much completely identifies as religious. Every elected President in this country, from any party, has at least claimed to be a Christian. For example, Jimmy Carter, among others, has explicitly linked his work against war and against poverty to his religion and has been doing so for my entire life. Particularly in the south, where the Democratic Party is dominated by African-Americans, there would be no Democratic Party without Christians (with the exception of my Congressman, Hank Johnson, who is Buddhist).

I know it's seems outlandish from the Metafilter atheist bubble, but if the US "Left", such as it is, cannot "count on Christians in the long run", then there is currently no US "Left" of any sort, and obviously, no Democratic Party. I know we're weird and we make you uncomfortable and you want to shout at us about how irrational we are, but surely simple numbers tell you that it's better to not dismiss all progressive religious people out of hand and wish we would just go away.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:37 PM on July 24, 2013 [19 favorites]


Well, in proto Indo-European, the word for "sky" is Dyēus (also where we get "Zeus" and "Deity"). In early proto-Latin, you get dyew-patēr -- Jupiter -- literally Sky-Father.

And as recently as 35 years ago, we got Darth Vader (arguably a faux-European mangling of "Dark Father"), who everyone now knows to be a Sky-Walker.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:49 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is seriously limiting to allow fundamentalist Christianity to define your worldview of what religion is, even in the United States. Sure, we could have an interesting argument that Biblical literalism is incompatible with progressivism. But that doesn't nearly touch on the whole world of other kinds of Christians, to say nothing of members of other religions, for whom those descriptors don't apply. Many of them would find the kinds of black and white Biblical literalism suggested by some non-religious folk upthread laughable at best, and tragically reductionist at worst. Theology, like lots of fields, is a big, big diverse place, with representatives for just about every idea, and a big middle that's somewhere in between.

Some of these religious progressives will surely be politically active through and of their churches and define themselves as religious progressives - from time to time, that's been me. But most of them, I suspect, are just ordinary progressives exercising their first amendment rights. If you want to set up some kind of cultural litmus test for who's allowed to vote with you, go ahead. But don't be surprised when that backfires.
posted by Apropos of Something at 6:50 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just imagine that Progressive Christians are pretty smart people who are able to read and interpret texts thoughtfully and don't view them simply as instruction manuals. And understand that that type of reading has a very very long history in Judaism before Christianity even existed, so it's not like we just made it up in the 1980s or anything. And in fact, reading the Bible literally and not ever questioning anything you're told about it has only been a part of a small branch of Christianity for about 100 years.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:52 PM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


hydropsyche:

something like 85% of the Democrats in Congress

I think there's some dissonance here, because the Democrats in Congress are not at all what I would identify as progressives or the left. Of course I'm further left than polite discourse in the USA allows (I'm a Marxist) - which may explain some of why I feel the left can't rely on people who you are identifying as constituting the left themselves.
posted by graymouser at 6:54 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Progressive Christianity is weird and contradictory, because you need to ignore or explain away big chunks of both Old and New Testaments--including some of Jesus' own teachings--to get anything that looks remotely like progressivism. Of course, you need to do precisely the same thing to get anything that looks like the Religious Right too, but the basic insight is still valid.

This puts theological conservatives, as distinct from "religious conservatives" as discussed above, in something of a bind.


I don't understand this. In what way are the "theological conservatives" any different from the point of view of needing "to ignore or explain away big chunks of both Old and New Testaments--including some of Jesus' own teachings"? Are all "theological conservatives" united in their theology? Or are we defining "theological conservatives" as simply those who agree with our favored theology, in a true Scotsman manner? And how do those theological conservatives come by their one-and-only-true interpretation of the bible, considering that the bible is inherently contradictory, thus making a one-true-interpretation logically impossible?

There is no objective criterion by which we can adjudicate between various theologies the way we can ascertain the truth of competing scientific hypothesis. That leaves us with a claim that one theology is internally consistent while the other isn't based on "Old and New Testaments--including some of Jesus' own teachings" - except since those teachings are not internally consistent in turn, it leaves us with nothing but interpretations, and importantly, interpretations the ultimate truth of which there is no way to ascertain.

abortion

killing as many babies

This is interesting theologically. It is my understanding that historically Protestants in the U.S. were not particularly concerned with abortion the way Catholics were, and that it only became a huge issue due to political considerations. Indeed that would not be so surprising, because it doesn't seem that abortion has been explicitly addressed in the NT. And if we look to the guidance derived from the OT as interpreted by early Jewish practice (and there is not a whole lot of guidance), the fetus was not a baby until birth, and killing a fetus is not murder, therefore the "killing babies" interpretation is something that has more of a political than theological basis. I'm genuinely curious to learn why abortion has become such an outsize issue for evangelicals, if Judeo-Christian theology has not been particularly voluble on the subject historically.
posted by VikingSword at 6:56 PM on July 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


Graymouser - are you perhaps conflating the political left with the religious left?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 PM on July 24, 2013


There is also the bit about a woman not being allowed to teach men, which to their credit a lot of mainline Protestants just seem to toss aside. Again, I think it is a structural weakness of progressive Christianity that it creates these areas of difficult nuance and cognitive dissonance. In this I'm not slamming progressive Christians, just saying that I don't see them as a force the left can count on in the long run.

It's not really that they're just thrown out or ignored. It's that there are different ways of interpreting what was being said in the context of the specific group Paul's letters are referring too. The Biblical texts are only one side of the conversation between specific groups. There is also the issue of translation from the mostly the original Greek translated into English.

A brief example is the supposed command given that women should be silent in church which is interpreted by many as Paul saying that women should not have a say in anything. If I remember correctly in the language of the original texts, Greek there are several words for that can be translated into the English 'speak' but in concept they describe types of speaking. What the text refers to is a type of speaking that is describe better as nittering, nattering and gossiping. In context of the whole letter what Paul seems to be dealing with is a group that is having troubles keeping themselves together and figuring out the best ways to behave well in Church services. In the even larger context of what was happening at the time was that this new religion was bringing about different ways of worshipping. It was common for instance that men and women worshipped seperately. So here was a new group having problems with all this new stuff. Paul was saying to women that worship service was not a time to be gossiping and talking amongst themselves.

The whole women should never teach and shut up thing makes as some sort of ultimate dictum doesn't make a whole lot of sense because there were women leaders and disciples in the early Church that Paul talked about and who worked with him. Some he talked about with great respect. They're referred to within canon and in texts outside of canon.

Some scholars suggest that for a time women did hold higher status and equality in the early church (relative to the time) and some of the more harsh anti-women dictums came about post-Paulian.

I no longer attend any church and am a-religious but still find the study of texts and the development of the theology that accompany them interesting. It gets more interesting when these texts are explored in the historical and cultural context they were written down in. Adding these sorts of things in can lead to quite different readings.
posted by Jalliah at 6:57 PM on July 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think there's some dissonance here, because the Democrats in Congress are not at all what I would identify as progressives or the left. Of course I'm further left than polite discourse in the USA allows (I'm a Marxist) - which may explain some of why I feel the left can't rely on people who you are identifying as constituting the left themselves.

Okay, that's great. I identify as a socialist. But I'm a Christian, too. I vote for Democrats because I live in Georgia, and there aren't a lot of other options. So do you want me in your tiny group that you consider the true left?
posted by hydropsyche at 6:58 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd say the great majority of Democrats are not progressives, but what's weird to me about this idea that "the Left," such as it is, can't count on religious progressives is that many of the causes and movements that are generally considered lefty wouldn't exist without religious folk. Just randomly, most abolitionists and nearly the entire membership of the Civil Rights movement were religious; people like Thoreau and John Muir and others who helped originate modern environmentalism were certainly religious/spiritual in very non-authoritarian ways; many, many organizations created to alleviate poverty and related social ills, practically the whole profession of social work, were started and are maintained by folks who profess and are motivated by religious belief. The marriage equality movement has a definite thread of inclusive religious folk involved in it.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:59 PM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


On the other hand, we've got a party that has superficially positive social justice intuitions but which has staked its political capital on killing as many babies as possible.

Wow.

It's accurate enough to say that a lot of pro-choice positions and thinking are staked out around the idea that personal sexual/reproductive freedom is more important than any consideration due to life that may be brought into existence by exercising that freedom, and it's arguable this isn't an ethical or moral ordering of priorities.

Describing pro-choice thinking as driven by the imperative to maximize dead infants/fetuses isn't just wrong, it's a good way to blow through a lot of credibility, so I guess it's a good thing you threw it in at the end of an otherwise thoughtful comment.
posted by weston at 7:00 PM on July 24, 2013 [29 favorites]


Some people take the good parts to heart, and others take the bad parts. While I would prefer that people take the good parts, that doesn't change the fact that the bad parts are in there, nor that both types of people have their convoluted reasoning for why the other parts are to be ignored.

It is unfortunate that fundamentalists have been so successful in redefining what it means to be religious that even atheists argue that being religious means believing that the bible is "true." You're accepting that literalism/fundamentalism is the norm and that any other form of religious expression is some bastardized version of that. It simply isn't so, as a cursory study of the history of religious thought will demonstrate.
posted by Wordwoman at 7:05 PM on July 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


I said no such thing, Wordwoman.
posted by Flunkie at 7:09 PM on July 24, 2013


I know it's seems outlandish from the Metafilter atheist bubble ...

WTF?

I know we're weird and we make you uncomfortable and you want to shout at us about how irrational we are, ...

WTF?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:10 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is unfortunate that fundamentalists have been so successful in redefining what it means to be religious that even atheists argue that being religious means believing that the bible is "true."

Amen to that. It's a profoundly amusing irony to have people who reject all religious texts tell me I'm not doing it right if I don't accept them as instruction manuals or bend over backwards trying to make them internally consistent.
posted by Miko at 7:11 PM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Okay, that's great. I identify as a socialist. But I'm a Christian, too. I vote for Democrats because I live in Georgia, and there aren't a lot of other options. So do you want me in your tiny group that you consider the true left?

I would put things another way: if you identify as a socialist, you're probably to the left of most of the Democratic Party, which is fine by me - voting is a topic for another day. But I'm not counting on the Christian left to come and bail out the far left, which I agree is far too small and ineffective.
posted by graymouser at 7:11 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


IMHO: Nice try, but "religion" (organized, particularly salvationist, which I'm sure is what is meant) and "progressive" go together like "christian punk".

I'm sure that the inherent meaning in that phrase isn't what the young are moving towards, but is more like a fervent brayer by their ideoillogical elders.
posted by Twang at 7:13 PM on July 24, 2013


I think there's some dissonance here, because the Democrats in Congress are not at all what I would identify as progressives or the left. Of course I'm further left than polite discourse in the USA allows (I'm a Marxist) - which may explain some of why I feel the left can't rely on people who you are identifying as constituting the left themselves.

By your definition, there's not really a (politically) meaningful left in the US, anyway.

So what does it matter if religious progressives are reliable?
posted by graphnerd at 7:13 PM on July 24, 2013


This whole idea of "counting on" seems like kind of a vague nonissue. We move issues forward when we establish a coalition behind them. No one bails out anyone else; different groups agree to unite on specific goals.
posted by Miko at 7:14 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I wish the section on "The Role of Religion and Government" actually delved more into government instead of the vague "public" questions that too often bedevil these surveys. The report talks about the "public role of religion" with progressives more likely than conservatives to say that "religion is a private matter that should be kept out of public debates" (35). However, one can believe in a public religion while also believe that religion has no role in government. If religion motivates one's dedication to social justice that doesn't mean one believes that government should be religious in contravention of the First Amendment. One can call for just laws, the concept of justice being informed from a religious perspective, without those laws being religious.

The conflating of "public" with "government" is largely the work of Luntz-esque framing on the part of the religious right. It serves to make boogeymen of those who support church-state separation (whether religious or not) by making them seem opposed to public religion when in fact they are opposed to religious laws.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:16 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Christian punk?
posted by Miko at 7:17 PM on July 24, 2013


Christian punk?

"Ibrahim Abraham" would be an awesome band/album name.
posted by graphnerd at 7:22 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


75% of Jewish Americans support marriage equality.

Maybe I'm biased because most of the religious people I hang out with are hippyish Anglicans and Jews, but religion and progressive (and socialist and environmentalist and...) have never seemed to be at odds for me. I have long described myself as a Christian utopian socialist; I'm not much of a Christian any more, but my socialism has always been based more on Thomas More than Karl Marx.
posted by jb at 7:24 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wordman: It is unfortunate that fundamentalists have been so successful in redefining what it means to be religious that even atheists argue that being religious means believing that the bible is "true." You're accepting that literalism/fundamentalism is the norm and that any other form of religious expression is some bastardized version of that. It simply isn't so, as a cursory study of the history of religious thought will demonstrate.

Religious tolerance and diversity
for thee,
but not for me,
I see.

Here's a suggestion. If you disagree with something someone said, take it up with them, personally.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:34 PM on July 24, 2013


What jb said -- and maybe it's a generational thing too (which is why I think the "rise" of religious progressivism should actually be "resurgence"). I'm utterly a-religious myself, and I live in a largely conservative Republican area now, but you still can't swing a dead cat around here without hitting a progressive religious person or two. Maybe I just see them more easily because I grew up in the days when Vatican II social justice nuns, Jesus freaks, hippie guitar mass, Godspell, Superstar, Catholic Workers, and great numbers of anarchist and socialist Jews were totally normal parts of the cultural landscape.

And at least among people of my musty generation, religious progressives and atheists get along great because the hallmark of religious progressives is that they by and large don't give a solitary shit what anyone else does or doesn't believe in or worship. These are people who will go to an anti-war or pro-marriage-equality protest with you and never once try to cram a ladleful of deity down your throat. Perhaps that's the explanation -- every time you go to a lefty political or community activity, you are quite likely surrounded by people who have brought their imaginary supernatural friends along. They just never mention it, so you don't know.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:36 PM on July 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think the "rise" of religious progressivism should actually be "resurgence"

Absolutely true.
posted by Miko at 7:41 PM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


This whole idea of "counting on" seems like kind of a vague nonissue. We move issues forward when we establish a coalition behind them. No one bails out anyone else; different groups agree to unite on specific goals.

What I'm trying to get at is that the rise of progressive sentiments among Christians is not, in my opinion, the kind of thing that's going to drive new social movements forward. It's a side effect of some of what's already going on, and it's not something I oppose, but I don't think it has profound consequences that will reshape the left.

Religious progressivism, in my experience, has often had what a friend called a "witnessing" flavor to it - not in the evangelical sense of conversion but in the idea of bearing witness and that being enough. That's not the kind of thing that I see as having a transformative effect on the political scene in the US.
posted by graymouser at 7:48 PM on July 24, 2013


Religious progressivism, in my experience, has often had what a friend called a "witnessing" flavor to it - not in the evangelical sense of conversion but in the idea of bearing witness and that being enough. That's not the kind of thing that I see as having a transformative effect on the political scene in the US.

Maybe it's not so much that the rise itself is transformative because progressives have always existed but more the fall of religious right's numbers ends up in some transforming because their voice holds less and less power and you'll hear religious political arguments less and less.

I'm in Canada and we have a long history of what I suppose could be named progressive religion informing politics but it's just not necessarily overt in terms of rhetoric. The initiator of our healthcare system, Tommy Douglas, was a baptist minister. Some of the biggest supporters of same sex marriage were and are churches. It's just not seen as necessarily a religious fight or debate. Unlike like our Christian Right which makes it really obvious when they argue policy. From the outside looking in the US Right Wing is very overt in making clear the religious underpinnings.
posted by Jalliah at 8:05 PM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


And the branches of the church that do their best to stick to historic Christian orthodoxy? They tend to be pretty apolitical.

Well this comment made me curious. Which "branches of the church" are you referring to?
posted by gerstle at 8:24 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I'm trying to get at is that the rise of progressive sentiments among Christians is not, in my opinion, the kind of thing that's going to drive new social movements forward. It's a side effect of some of what's already going on, and it's not something I oppose, but I don't think it has profound consequences that will reshape the left.

I don't know that it needs to reshape the left. You seem to be demanding some kind of massive impact or transformative force here in order to consider this of note. In reality, a slight shift to where the nation's center falls is enough to change the electoral balance, and thus economic policy, and that's what this report is predicting.
posted by Miko at 8:30 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


...a slight shift to where the nation's center falls is enough to change the electoral balance

Word, Miko. And regarding something you said before--sometimes I think we really don't get the concept of coalitions in this country.
posted by Anitanola at 9:10 PM on July 24, 2013


This whole idea of "counting on" seems like kind of a vague nonissue. We move issues forward when we establish a coalition behind them. No one bails out anyone else; different groups agree to unite on specific goals.

Oh, when it comes to feminism, gay rights, prison reform, pacifism, and ecological and economic justice, we're just great. You're the leaders.

Where I don't trust religious progressives, can't trust, is religious tolerance. Because some (not all, some) gerrymander that concept to hell and back to have license to overgeneralize, badmouth, and exclude atheists. Humanist ministers were openly libeled on the house floor twice in the past month, resulting in two different votes to explicitly exclude them from serving military personnel. I'm a bit frustrated that the only religious people I can find talking about those two votes are explicitly mocking right-wing rags.

You (generally) need to start stepping up to the plate and criticizing that stuff, just like you do when it's about women, just like you do when it's about LGBT people, just like you do when it's about your own religion, just like you do when it's about religious people who are not atheists.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:47 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well this comment made me curious. Which "branches of the church" are you referring to?

Traditionalist Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches (smaller than the SBC) are often conservative theologically and socially without being politically active about it. Not to mention churches the various Eastern Orthodox church.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:57 PM on July 24, 2013


Jesus is directly quoted as saying that the law would not change, not one jot, not one tittle, till heaven and earth disappear. People who don't like the obvious meaning of that have their reasoning for why it doesn't really mean what it seems to plainly mean, yadda yadda yadda.

If memory serves, that is a quote from Mathew. Mathew was a Romanized Jew who wrote after the other three gospels we well established. He added things to the existing cannon that indicated to the Jews of the day that Jesus was the fulfillment of the previous prophesies rather than a threat to them. These things exist nowhere else in the Bible.

For example, the Christmas story. Mathew is the only one to mention the star, the magi, or the specific location. The location of Jesus’s birth was chosen to be in line with previous Jewish prophesies about the birth of the Messiah.

The Sermon on the Mount is another example. Mathew is the only gospel to put it on an actual mountain. The image of Jesus giving the law on a mountain was intended as a direct parallel to Moses.

All of these things, including your quote, are dog whistles intended to convince the Jews of the day that Jesus was the prophesized Messiah.

Paul on the other hand, while also a Romanized Jew, was preaching to the gentiles. Paul argued that you don’t have to be a Jew to be a Christian. He emphasized the supernatural aspects such as healing, miracles, and the resurrection to appeal to a wider audience.

Neither Mathew nor Paul actually met Jesus but their writings define what it means to be a Christian to most people. It’s not enough to follow the words and deeds of Jesus, you have to believe things that other people said about him, things like the Trinity, that he was the Messiah, etc. (At least that’s what I was told the last time I went to church.) This is what makes being a religious liberal so difficult.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 2:46 AM on July 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Where I don't trust religious progressives, can't trust, is religious tolerance. Because some (not all, some) gerrymander that concept to hell and back to have license to overgeneralize, badmouth, and exclude atheists. Humanist ministers were openly libeled on the house floor twice in the past month, resulting in two different votes to explicitly exclude them from serving military personnel. I'm a bit frustrated that the only religious people I can find talking about those two votes are explicitly mocking right-wing rags.

You (generally) need to start stepping up to the plate and criticizing that stuff, just like you do when it's about women, just like you do when it's about LGBT people, just like you do when it's about your own religion, just like you do when it's about religious people who are not atheists.


I agree that atheist and humanist ministers should serve military personnel. I, and all religious progressives who I hang out with, regardless of religion, support freedom of conscience and the 1st amendment in general. As far as I can tell, the movement in Congress against atheist and humanist ministers in the military is completely being driven by the Republican Party. They hate me, too, and won't listen to me, either. If I'm mistaken on that, and there are Democrats involved in that unpleasantness who might actually care about what I think, tell me who they are, and I will get in touch with them.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:15 AM on July 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


It’s funny I read this now; I just came home to my Southern hometown to visit my parents and Mom dragged me to church on Sunday. (I had no choice in the matter—she wanted to show off my son/her grandson and I knew not to debate).

I grew up in that Presbyterian church, and while I found the sermons boring beyond belief, there was no craziness involved. I went to a Southern Baptist service with a friend when I was about 15, and that blew me away. I was a sinner! I was bad! I needed to accept Jesus, like now, or I would burn! That was a far cry from the Presbyterians.

So anyway I went to the service on Sunday and there was the singing and the Bible verses and yep, a boring sermon. But what struck me the most was that these people were friends. Everyone seemed to know each other (not having gone in over decade, I was mostly clueless), and throughout the more informal parts of the service, like community announcements and the like, there was just a lot of joking and laughing going on. Running jokes I didn’t really understand. “Hell” wasn’t mentioned once. “Repent,” as a demand, wasn't mentioned once. The church youth were brought up to the front and the pastor gave a short speech to them on their upcoming mission trip to help in a homeless shelter in a neighboring town. He told them that their work would have a more positive effect on them than on the people they were going there to help. It was both uplifting and grounded in firm reality.

I have no interest in going every week to a place like that, but an even atheist like me (shh, don’t tell Mom!) rather enjoyed it.

On the way home, we passed a strip mall and where once a Safeway supermarket was, now there was a church. In a strip mall. With a big crazy sign that said something like “LIFE CHURCH!” or some such nuttiness.
I mentioned this to my mom, “Life church? In a strip mall?”

Mom rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t get me started. They’re a bunch of loonies there.”

Until a better analogy comes along, I think I’ll stick with that--there are two types of churches, the real ones, and the ones whose theology wouldn’t be out of place in a strip mall church.
posted by zardoz at 4:23 AM on July 25, 2013 [11 favorites]



Zardoz.

You pretty much describe my entire church upbringing including a visit to a friends Baptist church that scared me with it's thundering preacher. Hell was not place of threat that you end up when your bad but rather more like spiritual state that one could find themselves in here and now. Looking back on it the emphasis was more on spiritual journey in this life with questions and exploring being more important then obeying set and stringent laws. I don't recall ever being told what to do beyond the basics of don't murder and steal.

I became less and less religious as a grew up and even when I expressed disbelief in many basic tenants including in God itself it wasn't an issue. The community was the important part and judging why and where everyone was there spiritually wise just wasn't a thing. I still attended as young adult because the people were great and things like weekly Bible study tickled my academic interest in learning about religious thought. The congregation also participated in many social justice issues and projects.

I'd probably still be attending if I hadn't moved away even though I'd consider myself pretty much an athiest now. I enjoyed the weekly time with people that cared about each other and cared about bigger issues in life. It also was a weekly time to just relax and ponder the bigger questions of life and living in a nice and welcoming space.
posted by Jalliah at 5:03 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: arguably big-assier than Christian progressivism

I'll show myself out now.
posted by workerant at 5:12 AM on July 25, 2013


Democrats who voted for the amendment:

Ron Barber (AZ-02)
John Barrow (GA-12)
Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Jim Cooper (TN-05)
Jim Costa (CA-16)

Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Danny Davis (IL-07)
Bill Enyart (IL-12)
Pete Gallego (TX-23)
Joe Garcia (FL-26)

Gene Green (TX-29)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Derek Kilmer (WA-06)
Daniel Lipinski (IL-03)
Dan Maffei (NY-24)

Jim Matheson (UT-02)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Mike Michaud (ME-02)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Bill Owens (NY-21)

Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Raul Ruiz (CA-36)
Terri Sewell (AL-07)
Juan Vargas (CA-51)
Filemon Vela (TX-34)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:25 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


And the branches of the church that do their best to stick to historic Christian orthodoxy? They tend to be pretty apolitical.

Tell it to the Russians. And I would be shocked, shocked to discover the Roman Catholic Bishops meddling in politics by opposing healthcare for people.

The two branches of the Church that care most about Holy Tradition and historic Christian orthodoxy going back a thousand years or more are probably the two branches of the church that get furthest into bed with secular powers - the Religious Right are amateurs by these standards.
posted by Francis at 5:31 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Okay, now you've got me really disappointed in my Congressman, Hank Johnson, who I mentioned previously is Buddhist. I can't imagine it's particularly easy being a Buddhist black man in Georgia, so I am really surprised by his vote to not support others of minority opinions regarding religion. I will write to him now, and I apologize for not knowing he voted that way.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:51 AM on July 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


If I'm mistaken on that, and there are Democrats involved in that unpleasantness who might actually care about what I think, tell me who they are, and I will get in touch with them.

The Humanist chaplain issue didn't generate a great deal of attention (sadly), so there wasn't a lot of opportunity for Democrats to demonstrate their opprobrium against atheists, though as CBrachyrhynchos' roll call demonstrates Democrats largely didn't show much enthusiasm either. In cases that generate more public interest, such as the Newdow "under God" law suit, the ugliness of anti-atheist beliefs tends to come to the fore among both Democrats and Republicans. I recall in particular Senator Byrd's shameful floor speech after the 9th Circuit decision in which he accused atheists of taking action to oppress religious people.

That said, I don't think the unconscious anti-atheist prejudice among some liberal believers poses any more of a challenge than, for example, unconscious racism among some feminists, so long as there are parties among both religious believers and atheists working to keep such prejudice visible and redress it. The fact that the progressive religious population is getting younger gives me hope in this regard given the consistent younger demographic's resistance to the bigotries of their elders.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:55 AM on July 25, 2013


Here is the message I just sent to my congressman:

Dear Representative Johnson,
I was really disappointed to learn that you voted against allowing humanist and atheist chaplains in the US military. I myself am Presbyterian, but I have friends who have all kinds of beliefs, and I believe that there should be emotional and spiritual support for all members of the military regardless of their beliefs. It seems to be simply discriminatory to have chaplains for many different religions but to not offer similar support to followers of humanism and those who are atheists. As a member of a religious minority group yourself, I'm surprised that you would not be sympathetic. I hope that you will change your opinion on this issue, and speak out on behalf of all of your constituents. And when you have the opportunity in the future, I hope that you will vote to provide chaplains to support all of our service members.


I used to live in Athens, GA and be represented by John Barrow, so I know that he is a Blue Dog and really does not care what I think, unfortunately, or I would write to him, too. But I will stay on Hank Johnson about this and related issues because, whatever you may think about me, freedom of conscience matters to me a lot.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:02 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it's disingenuous to latch onto the idea that since 85% of elected Democrats are religious their religiosity is what shapes their politics.

The issue is that, in the US, it is incredibly difficult to be elected to public office if one is not religious (or not of the "right" religion). Which is a serious problem.
posted by lydhre at 6:21 AM on July 25, 2013


I know it's seems outlandish from the Metafilter atheist bubble, but if the US "Left", such as it is, cannot "count on Christians in the long run", then there is currently no US "Left" of any sort, and obviously, no Democratic Party.

I'd say it is true there is no major US Left and the presense of a majority of Christians in the Democratic party is no evidence against that. The Democratic Party is center-right and quite far from anything even remotely progressive.
posted by srboisvert at 6:27 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, when it comes to feminism, gay rights, prison reform, pacifism, and ecological and economic justice, we're just great. You're the leaders.

I don't think we're just great at all. I agree that humanist and athiest chaplains should serve. I'm not sure why religious people should be perceived as "the leaders."

You (generally) need to start stepping up to the plate and criticizing that stuff, just like you do when it's about women, just like you do when it's about LGBT people, just like you do when it's about your own religion, just like you do when it's about religious people who are not atheists.

I don't think I've given anyone any reason to think that I don't do that and don't support others in doing it. As with a lot of issues, legislative change on this issue requires a coalition that needs to be built person by person and perhaps group by group. I can't say that every religious liberal is in support of the idea of atheists being chaplains, because I don't know every religious liberal. I can say that I've seen nothing in my practice or congregation that encourages anyone to oppose it and do not personally oppose it, and would disagree openly with others who oppose it. But if you want to get people to take action and support it, especially people for whom this is not on their radar or not an important and personal issue for them, there is campaign work that needs to happen to raise awareness and encourage action. Legislative change doesn't happen just by noting inclinations, and you can't expect people to be active on issues they don't know exist yet.
posted by Miko at 6:28 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought about this while walking to work some more, and realized that the thing that feels uncomfortable about the "count on" language is the expectation that all those who identify with"left" as a political position will naturally align in support of all stances on the left. And I find that I just don't behave that way, and am not sure many people really do, except for highly polarized people who are strongly ideological. I use the self-identifier "left" or "lefty" because my own observations about the actions of wealth and power in politics and the economy, and my own beliefs about the role of the state, are most well aligned with thinkers on the left, historically and today.

At the same time, I reject the kind of thinking that conceives of the left as a slate of issues requiring 100% across-the-board support, in lockstep, from a monolithic group acting as a single mind. So "you supported gay rights, therefore you must support athiest chaplains" is not a given for me (even though in that case, personally I do). I find that my political decisionmaking is more complex than that, and tend to be allergic to the idea of "polictical correctness," in the old, Marxist sense that there's one "correct" stance on any given issues, and that one must strive to understand issues from the single approved perspective that The Lefttm endorses.

In fact, Christianity does play into this, at least for me - and I can see why you would say you can't "count on" all Christian progressives to be in support of all issues you define as important or all stances you see as vital. An important part of the stories of Christianity, for me, is their discussion of authority and group alignment and loyalty. I take away from them the need to be wary of enterprises demanding lockstep conformity, and to resist social forces that subsume the individual conscience and personal view in a larger project that ends up suppressing that particularity.

But I don't see this as a problem. No, you probably can't "count on" me, if that means being able to predict my support of an issue by knowing my stance on a separate issue. But even when I was nonreligious and identifying as athiest, you couldn't count on me then, either. I think the idea that you can "count on" anyone, really, is a fiction, or at least a poor rubric, for political action. That is why I stress coalitions as the means of effecting change. Individuals need to consult their conscience, principles, and analyses before making political decisions, and they have a right to come to whatever independent conclusions they come to. When we can find points of strong alignment, or even slates of issues that more than one person can agree on, we have formed a coalition that will move that issue forward - in the way that blacks and whites, poor and wealthy, elected official and regular citizen, Jews, Christians, and the nonreligious united to advance civil rights legislation did in the 50s and 60s. Those people were not all in lockstep, and that same coalition could not be (and was not) "counted on" to advance women's rights or gay rights. Which is fine. Those required, and developed, unique coalitions.

So in the end, you're right, you can't "count on" me in the way you might wish - a way that says you can demand my allegiance or exchange back-scratches or predict my actions based on some separate issue. The only thing you can count on is that I'm going to do my best to apply my principles, understandings, moral feelings and hopes to the political process, and that there are spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and identity-based underpinnings to how those forces determining my moral choices are developed. There are some aggregate patterns, but this study, when you read the discussion and analysis, shows that even those are complex phenomena.

So, while Christian progressivism may motivate and inform individual action and create vehicles for the discussion of political issues and for collective action, on specific projects, the rise of Christian progressivism should not be seen as something that will advance all lefty issues equally. This study discusses specifically its influence on economic policy - that's a good example. On that issue, we can see things starting to change, as people try to reconcile their religious understandings about poverty/inequality and caring for others and distrusting accumulations of wealth with the present economic climate, and find that their religiously informed principles are at odds with their political actions. So if you are concerned about economic policy, wealth inequality, the minimum wage, student loans, banking and mortgage policies, and other parts of the legislative agenda that deal with poverty and inequality, you can find common cause among a broad and growing swath of religious progressives. But on a different issue, taking the measure across religious progressives in the way this study does, you would probably find a different picture of how those opinions are weighted.

And that is fine. At the end of the day, I will align with you on issues I am led by my thinking and reflection and religious practice to feel are very important. And we can make a lot of progress together, religious and nonreligious alike, because we share so many perspectives on so many issues. But I'm OK with not being automatically "counted on" by anyone to perhaps behave in ways contrary to that, because that seeks to encroach on my individual freedom of thought and conscience.
posted by Miko at 8:00 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Does anyone know why religious conservatives are shrinking every generation?


It is simply because they are not defining themselves as such. Neocons and hippies in the eroding middle, with self-conscious progressives on the left and the right fleeing and looking to other leaders and sources and ways of doing things.
posted by michaelh at 8:07 AM on July 25, 2013


It's weird for those of us who have always been progressive members of mainline denominations, which have always (in my lifetime) been concerned with social justice and just generally being a decent human being.

Or as I like to think of it, more of the New Testament and less of the Old Testament, please.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:12 AM on July 25, 2013


Tell it to the Russians.

Yes, but Eastern Orthodox churches, along with Oriental Orthodox churches, are pretty apolitical in the U.S., as they tend to be more community centers for small immigrant populations. I didn't think there's as much of a desire to get involved in American politics.
posted by Apocryphon at 8:20 AM on July 25, 2013


" and coming up with interpretations that aren't anti-gay are really hard."

Not really, you just have to know what you're talking about.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:44 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or as I like to think of it, more of the New Testament and less of the Old Testament, please.

Even the OT had several laws concerning taking care of widows, leaving the corners of fields for the poor to glean, and forgiving debt. All ideas that hard-right political types would consider socialism.
posted by emjaybee at 8:51 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, I think regarding the Torah/Old Testament as some kind of wall-to-wall grim totalitarian rulebook is sort of like calling Lord of the Rings a songbook or Ramayana a book about monkeys.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:58 AM on July 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


hydropsyche: But I will stay on Hank Johnson about this and related issues because, whatever you may think about me, freedom of conscience matters to me a lot.

I have no reason to trust you given the hyperbolic and overgeneralizing rhetoric in this post.

Miko: I'm not sure why religious people should be perceived as "the leaders."

Because people of theistic faith have been key leaders in all of those movements? It seems that we have a bad case of Schroedinger's religious progressive who's simultaneously responsible and not responsible for helping to build those coalitions.

Miko: I don't think I've given anyone any reason to think that I don't do that and don't support others in doing it.

Well, first of all, I went out of my way to qualify my statement as a cautious subset based on the experience of watching some (not all, some) people who identify as religious progressives flip-flop on these issues. This specific case is just one example. I put those qualifiers in because I think they're critically important in discussing diverse groups without essentializing or overgeneralizing. It's not a request that you, personally, justify your activism in this matter.

Meanwhile, I'm not asking that religious progressives adopt my pacifism because they're environmentalists. I'm asking that religious progressives consistently follow through on stated values of religious pluralism. And that includes refraining from making overgeneralized statements about atheists in online discussions like metafilter.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:15 AM on July 25, 2013


hydropsyche, I'm impressed. You asked someone to show you if you were wrong or didn't have your facts right and when presented with evidence you quickly & politely acknoewldeged you were wrong & copied us in a letter to your Congressperson.

I may not be a churchgoer or religious anymore but you're welcome in whatever part of the left I'm in.
posted by pointystick at 9:49 AM on July 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


CBrachyrhynchos: I was responding in my "hyperbolic and overgeneralizing rhetoric' to atheists right here in this thread making comments like this, and this, and this. When people make comments like that, I assume that they think I am an irrational weirdo not worth hanging out with since that's basically what they said. If that's not you, then I wasn't responding to you.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:47 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jews understood by the Kingdom of Heaven nothing else than a kingdom of God which will be realized on this earth, and which mankind will enjoy while they live. There is no doubt that this was the idea of the Kingdom of Heaven which the Jews always entertained, and which they still entertain. This being so, then when Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven he meant just what the Jews meant. In other words, Jesus actually meant the Kingdom of Heaven to be realized on this earth, and to be enjoyed by mankind while they live. Since this idea of Jesus is the soul and essence of Christianity, it clearly follows that the followers of Jesus perverted and distorted the idea of Jesus, and Christianity was and is only a perversion and distortion of the idea of Jesus. Since Jesus thought only of a Kingdom of Heaven to be realized on this earth, it follows that Christianity must identify itself with the material world, and cooperate with the revolutionary forces that work for the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth for living humanity.--A Program for the Jews, an answer to all anti-semites, a program for humanity / Harry Waton
posted by No Robots at 10:57 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because people of theistic faith have been key leaders in all of those movements?

Since nearly 90% of Americans have a theistic faith of some form, doesn't simple math predict this? Unless a movement is an explicitly anti-faith movement, then it probably contains leaders who are religious.

It seems that we have a bad case of Schroedinger's religious progressive who's simultaneously responsible and not responsible for helping to build those coalitions.

Your trouble is that you continue to think in the aggregate. Yes, religious people help to build those coalitions because it's highly likely that a coalition will contain at least some religious people, since 9 out of 10 people identify as having some religious feeling. And it's highly likely that leaders of any kind will be religious, because it's highly likely that any randomly selected American will be religious. Yes, rain is wet.

It's not a request that you, personally, justify your activism in this matter.


Of course it is. If you require it in the agreggate, it's something you require of individuals who make up the aggregate.

I'm asking that religious progressives consistently follow through on stated values of religious pluralism. And that includes refraining from making overgeneralized statements about atheists in online discussions like metafilter.

Well, I can certainly support avoiding making overgeneralized statements about athiests on MetaFilter. As for asking "religious progressives" as a group to follow through on values you think They're stating (and where are they stating it exactly?), I'm not sure it's going to be a productive project. First, again, there's no big meeting hall where all self-identified religious progressives get together to come to agreement on stating a set of values. Heck, if thousands of Protestant schisms don't convince you of that, nothing will. Second, there are religious progressives who do not actually believe in religious pluralism. As the study takes care to demonstrate, there are social progressives who are theologically conservative. Some of the leftiest Catholics I know, and probably evangelicals too, would identify with this group. They're politically progressive on many social and economic issues, but conservative about there being a one true faith that everyone will eventually come around to. Finally, no one can go to bat for a project they are unaware needs their support. This is where campaigning, awareness, coalitions and calls to action matter.
posted by Miko at 11:55 AM on July 25, 2013


hydropsyche: I can't tell that you mean "three people" when you make unqualified collective statements.

Miko: Your trouble is that you continue to think in the aggregate.

You don't understand what I think (and presuming you do is highly offensive). You don't appear to even understand what I've written. Now I'll admit that my ethics WRT writing about diverse communities are a work in progress, and I'm not always consistent in applying them. But I'm not particularly interested in a conversation based on the premise that my beliefs are not my beliefs, and my words are not my words.

Miko: If you require it in the agreggate, it's something you require of individuals who make up the aggregate.

Perhaps this is my statistics background, but this isn't even wrong.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:36 PM on July 25, 2013


Or as I like to think of it, more of the New Testament and less of the Old Testament, please.

Maybe you don't realize that it sounds like you're saying, "More Christianity and less Judaism, please"?
posted by straight at 1:50 PM on July 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


I can't tell that you mean "three people" when you make unqualified collective statements.

For the love of antelope...

When hydropsyche gave those three examples, she wasn't trying to say "I was only talking to these three people". What that meant was "I was talking to people who made statements like this, and so if you never did I wasn't talking about you."

You know, perhaps the reason some people insist upon a literal reading of the bible - or some non-Christians claim all Christians insist on literalism - is because they themselves don't have the imagination to figure out subtext. (And for the record, CBrachyrhynchos, I only mean to include you in that number if you sincerely are not putting on this literal-reading obtuse act just to win a fight on the Internet; if you are doing that, then no, I am not speaking of you.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:09 PM on July 25, 2013


CBrachyrhynchos: I'm sorry I hurt your feelings, as it was obviously not my intention, but I admit to being a little surprised by your taking such extensive offense at my hyperbolic language in the face of lots of other hyperbolic language on this page (presumably DU was not literally calling for a Final Solution against religious people). I personally appreciate the open brawl of Metafilter threads and actually think it's one of the real advantages of not having threaded conversations--we can all talk to each other together, coming and going as we are able and interested, rather than breaking off into little carefully addressed subconversations--but I recognize that some people prefer threaded conversations.

My point remains that as a progressive Christian, I am glad to work for social justice and other "left wing" causes with everybody else who wants to work for those causes, but my impression is that there are a number of atheists who wouldn't be comfortable with that and would prefer to have a movement that didn't include people like me, which, as I said a long time ago, is especially unfortunate given the numbers game. Those are the people I was clearly responding to, and as I said, if that's not you, then awesome, let's work together to make the world better.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:10 PM on July 25, 2013


You don't appear to even understand what I've written.

It's possible I don't. You seem simply to be saying that you expect anyone who identifies as "religious progressive" to eagerly be in support of, and activist about, athiest and other freedom-of-religion issues. I am saying I don't think that's realistic. Not only do some religious progressives not actually endorse a pro-atheism stance on those issues, not all religious progressives even who do support that stance philosophically would rank it highly among the issues most important to them to be active in personally. Is that a clearer way of saying this?

I'm not particularly interested in a conversation based on the premise that my beliefs are not my beliefs, and my words are not my words.

I'm not trying to tell you believe something you don't. If you are convinced that I don't get something, it is in fact because I at this point I don't understand whatever it is you're trying to say. I am happy to try again.

Perhaps this is my statistics background, but this isn't even wrong

Background or no background, if you're saying "religious progressives should support issue X," and I say "I'm a religious progressive and I don't support issue X," and you say "I don't require it of you, just of religious progressives," well, you're either excluding me from the class of religious progressives, or saying you don't actually expect that all religious progressives should support issue X.

Where you've lost me is on this question: who is it, precisely, that you want to support this issue who is not presently doing it?
posted by Miko at 2:56 PM on July 25, 2013


I think what might clear it all up is if, rather than use "religious progressives," you use "theological conservatives," because I think that's what you mean when you talk about "faith-in-faith" people. If you are wary about people's intolerance for nonbelief, then you're right, some people who are in the class of religious progressives are not tolerant of nonbelief. But they can still be progressive on other issues and part of other coalitions. Then there are also plenty of religious progressives who are also theologically liberal, who would naturally be allies to the project of promoting freedom of thought, and in general, are those allies.

So when you say "I don't trust religious progressives on the issue of nonbelief, because I can't be sure they support my right to be a humanist" well, there's no reason you should trust them, as a body, for that because it's not necessarily implied that they are progressive on this particfular epistemoligical issue just because they are progressive on some other social issues. Being politically progressive is definitely not a promise of being theologically liberal. But you might as well say "I don't trust religious people on the issue of nonbelief." Whether they're progressive on poverty or abortion or whatever, or not, is not predictably connected to whether they support the idea of encouraging nonbelief in civil society.
posted by Miko at 3:29 PM on July 25, 2013


When we have 3 in 5 Americans who are Atheists, call me.

It'll be a wash, because by that time at least half those Atheists will be conservatives.
posted by FJT at 3:45 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you are wary about people's intolerance for nonbelief, then you're right, some people who are in the class of religious progressives are not tolerant of nonbelief. But they can still be progressive on other issues and part of other coalitions.

To offer another atheist perspective on coalition-building with the religious left, I think it is understandable for atheists not to participate in coalitions that condone anti-atheist bigotry. Generally speaking, much as I wouldn't participate in a coalition that suborned sexism even as it pursued economic reform, I wouldn't participate in a coalition where members felt free to defame atheists or didn't defend their atheist members from defamation. Sometimes pragmatism demands voting for or working with the lesser evil, but when possible I look for left coalitions that honor justice across as many intersections of identity as possible.

Another issue is that, for understandable reasons, different subsets of the left will be most concerned with and knowledgeable about issues most directly affecting them. It's important to acknolwedge this when trying to build coalitions. Not everyone will understand everyone else. For example, I have a very different take on the chaplain issue than Miko does in terms of this characterization:
But if you want to get people to take action and support it, especially people for whom this is not on their radar or not an important and personal issue for them, there is campaign work that needs to happen to raise awareness and encourage action. Legislative change doesn't happen just by noting inclinations, and you can't expect people to be active on issues they don't know exist yet.
Far from a failure of coalition building and politicking, the Humanist chaplain proposal is just the latest in a decades long effort by a variety of non-theist organizations (and at times religious and mixed organizations) including the American Humanist Association, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinks, and the Secular Coalition of America to campaign for just treatment of atheists within the Department of Defense. This is the first time the chaplain proposal has advanced as far as congressional hearings and votes, so it isn't surprising that the vote failed considering the current make-up of Congress. I expect better results in future years (perhaps decades). And, the chaplain issue comes long after other DOD religious liberty battles have been won through the hard work of individual activists and groups. I don't expect all subsets of the left to be familiar with this history, just as I'm not familiar with the details of the groups I may join in coalition.

In the spirit of understanding, I'm going to admit that I'm only very familiar with one public figure on the left who takes an active approach to acknolwedging atheists and the challenges they face in terms of stereotyping: Barry Lynn (check out this episode of his Culture Shocks radio show for an example). I have some issues with how even Lynn discusses atheism, but he takes the initiative noting that atheists exist (when it is often convenient for political purposes to ignore that constituency) and he points out and criticizes anti-atheist stereotypes. I'd be intereseted to know of other prominent religious left figures who similarly make a point of welcoming atheists in forming their coalitions.
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:28 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


EC: I live in a culture where I see many more bad generalizations about religious groups than thoughtful ones. Some of that happens here on metafilter. So yes, I do think that careful writing and phrasing of claims about religious groups is a virtue. If something reads like a "LOL (a)theists" response, most of the time, if is.

Miko: It's possible I don't.

No you don't. Since you can't seem to acknowledge the use of qualifying and limiting phrases in this discussion, you probably won't. And since explicitly explaining that I'm not talking in universals, and explicitly pointing out that I consider those phrases to be ethically important hasn't worked, I'm not inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Miko: I'm not trying to tell you believe something you don't.

Then you shouldn't have written the verb phrase, "you are thinking."

Miko: Background or no background, ...

If I had meant, "all of you," I would have written that. If I had meant, "each of you" I would have written that. What I should have written was "some of you" instead of "You (generally)."

In any other context, my expressed desire wouldn't be interpreted as "each and every one." I want more transgender and Afro-Caribbean SF&F. I don't think that John Scalzi should get a sex change and immigrate to Barbados. If I say that I want my team to win more games, that doesn't mean I want them to win all the games. If I say I want collaborative religious tolerance movements that are inclusive of atheist and non-theist issues, that's not a statement that you, personally, need to jump.

Miko: who is it, precisely, that you want to support this issue who is not presently doing it?

Well, as I originally wrote, I have had bad interactions with supporters of religious tolerance and religious plurality who put everything under that umbrella, except for atheists, humanists, and non-theistic religious people. In my opinion, that involves a conflict of principle and practice. This is a political and social issue, not an epistemological one. "Faith-in-faith" is a religious perspective that's broadly ecumenical except where it comes to atheism and agnosticism, which are often treated as terrible influences.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:40 PM on July 25, 2013


I have a very different take on the chaplain issue than Miko does in terms of this characterization:

In fact, that seems to be the same as my take. You have a great familiarity with a history that I am not familiar with. I can't become active on something I have not heard of. I am not part of any coalitions to support humanist chaplaincy. I have never been asked to be part of them. This goal has never been shared with me. I have never received a call to action to make my voice heard on this issue. If you say there is no failure of coalition building here, I am the evidence that there is a failure. I am a sympathetic and active potential ally, who never heard of this until this thread.

What I should have written was "some of you" instead of "You (generally)."

Yes. Or even "some of them," since I don't think anyone espousing such views is present in this thread.

I have had bad interactions with supporters of religious tolerance and religious plurality who put everything under that umbrella, except for atheists, humanists, and non-theistic religious people.

I'm sorry you've had that experience. I think it's a widespread kind of experience, and yet it's not descriptive of all religious people whose politics lean left. One's theology has to feature a certain degree of agnostic doubt, or an assertion of universalism, or monism or polytheism, or an idiosyncratic and extra-denominational view of ontology, to put everyone under one umbrella. Those views are out there, and growing, but still rather rare.

In my opinion, that involves a conflict of principle and practice.

Probably so; at the same time, you can't be sure that it does, without knowing the detail of the principle; and also, the conflict you assume is there is probably not your burden to bear. It is possible for people to be internally consistent with their own principle on this, even if you find the principle odious. In other words, you may not like this view, but it's not necessarily hypocritical.

It's too bad that some people are not able to extend their tolerance to people who profess atheism. At the same time, there are plenty not able to extend their tolerance very far outside their own denominational borderlines of whatever kind, and that means they perceive little difference between atheists and other nonconformers.
posted by Miko at 6:59 PM on July 25, 2013


I can't become active on something I have not heard of. I am not part of any coalitions to support humanist chaplaincy. I have never been asked to be part of them. This goal has never been shared with me.

As I tried to say in my comment above, I don't have any expectation that you would be part of a coalition as it's still very much early days with regard to Humanist military chaplains. I'm glad you see yourself as a potential ally, and perhaps in later campaigns chaplain advocates will seek support from people in positions like yours. I just wanted to point out that there was more going on than advocates choosing not to seek allies.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:51 PM on July 25, 2013


I just wanted to point out that there was more going on than advocates choosing not to seek allies.

Oh, I've no doubt that there is a lot going on, on all kinds of concerns I've yet to learn of - not just on things like this but every kind of possible issue. I'm certain the entire set of projects around creating structures for humanism equivalent to structures for various religious communities will continue to grow; it's an inevitability. It would be good for everyone. And just to be clear, I wasn't saying I thought people who cared about that issue were choosing not to seek allies - just that it is not yet a widespread discussion, and it will take more work to reach the saturation point.

I'd be interseted to know of other prominent religious left figures who similarly make a point of welcoming atheists in forming their coalitions.

Sort of a tough set of parameters, but maybe Krista Tippet, John Lewis, Frank Schaeffer, Scotty McLennon, who started promoting atheist chaplaincy in colleges way back, the Dalai Lama maybe. But how many religious leaders or prominent figures of any kind can any of us even name, let alone ones that are (a) on the left and (b) supporting ecumenical activity with atheists? The minister where I go to church is an atheist and ecumenical, but is not famous, and his political and community work is pretty much confined to our town, not the national stage - is he a "figure?" Would you count Bill Clinton? Jimmy Carter? Nelson Mandela?

I mean, religiosity is pretty fractured - if we think about religious leaders even on the right, it's hard to think of many that have relevance for a sizeable number of people beyond a few TV-character grandstanders, promenaders on the likes of Daystar. And they're not leaders so much as personalities - disposable. There's Rick Warren. Beyond these kinds of folks, do we even have "figures" any more? I think that's what I liked about this report - that it discusses the thinking of people at the individual level, not what's being said on religious websites or from pulpits, but how individuals are applying their understandings to the political realm.

I would also say that leaders of issue-based coalitions working on things like economics, justice, immigration, hunger, etc. as activists may not also be leaders of the religious left or even identifiable as figures on the religious left - just people who are activists around those issues, whose religious life is led more privately, so that you'd never identify them as "prominent religious left leaders" and you wouldn't remark on the fact that all kinds of people are in their coalitions, because it wouldn't appear as terribly relevant. Gay marriage is a pretty good example of this. It's kind of hard to identify activists whose motivation is largely, partly,or slightly drawn from religion - if they don't wear it on their sleeves, and many don't, it just doesn't come up.
posted by Miko at 8:19 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bill McKibben, good example of the latter.
posted by Miko at 8:41 PM on July 25, 2013


Miko, thank you for your response. I didn't mean to ask a loaded question, and instead of "prominent" I should have said "public," that is people whose spoken and written words are available for people to see (on websites, in books, newsletters, etc.). I'm very much a believer in democracy (very much a skeptic too, but on the balance I have hope), so by "figure" I mean a person who concerns herself with acting publicly. Any person engaged in the work of talking and working with other people in trying to make our society better can be a "figure."

I asked because, seen from my position as an atheist in America, anti-atheist bigotry is still a problem (though hopefully one that is in decline). This is an important issue for me. Just like diminishing sexism and homophobia are important issues for me. I'm always looking for potential allies, especially among religious people given the confrontational or otherwise problematic state of a lot of public atheist-theist interaction. So, yes, your minister would count. Does he publish his sermons or other writings online?

I also didn't mean to imply that I have an expectation that people who consider themselves liberal and religious should be public about their religious views. I am looking for people who choose to be public, especially with regard to how people of differing religious identities, explicitly including atheists, can coexist productively in society and diminish prejudices that materially and psychologically impact their lives. I think that the left is strongest when solidarity is as broad as it can be, which is why I said I seek coalitions that honor justice across as many intersections of identity as possible.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:34 AM on July 26, 2013


I agree that anti-atheist bigotry is still a problem. I've talked about this elsewhere on MeFi, but I grew up in a context I now know is unusual - a freethinking household of former members of strict denominations. My dad is an atheist, an engineer whose co-workers and friends also tended to think like him. So growing up, atheism seemed normal to me. It has taken me a while to become more attuned to the ways in which it is vilified and oppressed in certain communities and, unfairly, in the civil sphere.

I'll MeMail you a link to my church's webpage where the minister usually posts his sermons. If anyone else wants it, let me know.

Also, if you haven't listened to Krista Tippett's show On Being, you might really like it. She does host a lot of people of faith on there, but also ethicists and social activists and others, including atheists and agnostics as well. There's always a very broad, very open approach to the big questions.
posted by Miko at 9:22 AM on July 26, 2013


What form does anti-atheist bigotry take? I'm not incredibly vocal about my beliefs, butalthough I'm not shy about sharing my atheist views if it comes up. I've never experienced anything I'd characterize as bigotry. Disagreement or even more annoyingly pity for my going-to-Hell soul), yes, but that's as far as it's ever gone. Are people denied housing or employment because of an atheist bent? (other than employment by explicitly religious organization) If so, why have they not been smacked down for even asking?
posted by wierdo at 8:33 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apologies for the dreadful typos in that last comment of mine, Hacker's Keyboard is great, except when it's not
posted by wierdo at 1:51 PM on July 29, 2013


wenestvedt Or as I like to think of it, more of the New Testament and less of the Old Testament, please.

Right; that Jesus guy was quite the hippie. That's why you should rip your eye out if it leads you to "sin". And that Paul guy, what laid back, live-and-let-live type.

Liberal Christians have been trying to find support in the Gospels for sometime now, and it's only there if you squint and ignore most of it. Christianity was orginally a Jewish sect, then another Eastern mystery cult, then an arm of the state, a quasi-Medieval European UN, and now a stagnant mish-mash of tradtionalist social rules evoked when needed to marginalize another or justify oneself. Each time, the religion was changed to fit the need. If liberals want a Liberal Christianity, they need to get out their erasers and write the Bible they want, as it was done in the past. The religion they want is currently not on paper, at least not in the Bible.
posted by spaltavian at 6:09 AM on July 30, 2013


[Christianity is] a stagnant mish-mash of tradtionalist social rules evoked when needed to marginalize another or justify oneself

But it's the Christian liberals who gloss things over and see what they want to see, got it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:36 AM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes.
posted by spaltavian at 10:12 AM on July 30, 2013


"Liberal Christians" and "Christian liberals" are two different groups with some overlap.

I love liberal Christianity. Make up whatever you want to believe. It's so much more honest.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:49 PM on July 30, 2013


If liberals want a Liberal Christianity, they need to get out their erasers and write the Bible they want, as it was done in the past. The religion they want is currently not on paper, at least not in the Bible.

It always fascinates me how so many anti-theists end up being bigger Bible literalists than hardcore Christians do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:20 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


It makes perfect sense since the entire existence of fundamentalism came about as a reactionary attempt to respond to critics of religion in the reductionistic terms of the critics.
posted by straight at 4:36 PM on July 30, 2013


"If liberals want a Liberal Christianity, they need to get out their erasers and write the Bible they want, as it was done in the past. The religion they want is currently not on paper, at least not in the Bible."

I don't suppose you have any examples to educate us poor illiterate Christians with.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:14 PM on July 30, 2013


The religion they want is currently not on paper, at least not in the Bible.

You know this is the exactly same argument that fundamentalists use against "liberal Christianity," right? The only difference is that it kind of makes sense coming from fundamentalists. It's weird when it's coming from someone who presumably does not think "the Bible" should be taken literally.
posted by Wordwoman at 7:18 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the Bible were true, then it could be taken literally. It's weird for for someone who presumably thinks the Bible is true to think the actual content of the document should be ignored.

Yes, yes, parable and metaphor. That takes the whole enterprise from theology to literary criticism, (where it's a disjointed and derivative mess), but ignoring that, you still have to somehow argue those metaphors aren't in service of a repressive, superstitious notion of the universe. Sure, Jesus is at least notionally economically populist, but noblesse oblige doesn't mean feudalism is a liberal ideology.

Jesus didn't repeal Leviticus, and in fact the Bible quotes him as saying the Old Testament is still valid. But Leviticus is just the easiest target. Jesus wasn't the nice guy liberal Christians want him to be; he killed a fig tree because he was mad it for not bearing fruit out of season! He criticized the Pharisees for not executing obedient children. The whole eye plucking thing. Jesus wasn't a democrat, or a scientist or a humanist.

Now, if you want to say that Jesus didn't explicitly endorse the Old Testament, or kill a fig tree, well, fine, none of it happened anyway. But like I said, you are changing the religion to suit your needs, and that's what's on the page, so get out your erasers as I said above. Religions are changed per the whim of the day; but realize you're creating something mostly new.
posted by spaltavian at 8:41 PM on July 30, 2013


"You know this is the exactly same argument that fundamentalists use against "liberal Christianity," right? The only difference is that it kind of makes sense coming from fundamentalists. It's weird when it's coming from someone who presumably does not think "the Bible" should be taken literally."

You don't need to take something literally to take it seriously, really the opposite is more generally true.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:03 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


But like I said, you are changing the religion to suit your needs, and that's what's on the page, so get out your erasers as I said above. Religions are changed per the whim of the day; but realize you're creating something mostly new.

Conservative christianity isn't really what's in the book, either. It's a 2000 year old religion that was very much of it's time and place, and any attempt to make it actually work in the here and now is going to involve some amount of interpretation and compromise. Either side is basically going to be constantly pulling stuff out of their ass and trying to justify it with some passage or another that has absolutely nothing to do with what they're talking about.
posted by empath at 10:56 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hell, they couldn't agree about what it meant 2000 years ago, let alone today. They were schisming and killing each other from almost the beginning.
posted by empath at 10:59 PM on July 30, 2013


If the Bible were true, then it could be taken literally. It's weird for for someone who presumably thinks the Bible is true to think the actual content of the document should be ignored.

Look, there's no such thing as reading something "literally." Any reading of a text only happens in a shared context of how you read and what that reading means.

Jesus said of Herod, "Go and say to that fox..." but not one single person who heard him thought Jesus was claiming that the king was a small, furry animal.

A lot of critics of religion (and the fundamentalists who respond to them) are making exactly that sort of error.
posted by straight at 8:31 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Exactly no one is making that sort of error. Read past the part of my comment you quoted:

Yes, yes, parable and metaphor. That takes the whole enterprise from theology to literary criticism, (where it's a disjointed and derivative mess), but ignoring that, you still have to somehow argue those metaphors aren't in service of a repressive, superstitious notion of the universe. Sure, Jesus is at least notionally economically populist, but noblesse oblige doesn't mean feudalism is a liberal ideology.

Yes, Jesus speaks figuratively in the Bible. But what do those metaphors mean? They are not in service of a liberal, tolerant society. And what about the non-metaphorical statements, such as the endorsement of the Old Testament? In that context, we know the "love" Jesus speaks of is not of the hippie variety.
posted by spaltavian at 9:10 AM on July 31, 2013


It really is ridiculous how people get hung up on this truth/falsity, literalist/metaphor discussion. Honestly, I don't bother engaging this most of the time. These, to me, are not the important parts of religious practice.

I seek coalitions that honor justice across as many intersections of identity as possible.

I was thinking about this more over the weekend. And, while honorable, I don't think I personally believe in behaving this way - excluding productive coalitions because of their failures, according to my moral systems, on other fronts. For me, I prefer to engage in coalitions I choose for their efficacy on an important issue, and rather than expecting everyone in the coalition to meet my standards for "honoring justice," my role is to introduce and embody and represent what that would look like, perhaps broadening the coalition's understanding. There are many coalitions I think are important to participate in, even though I don't endorse the wider political or social outlook of every member in that coalition. For instance, I have done a lot of work in the food movement with locally and state-based coalitions of people. And one of the interesting things about the food movement is how it's largely orthogonal to traditional left-right, liberal-conservative factionalism. It just doesn't break down easily along those lines. There are a lot of people interested in promoting local food who come from conservatism (bootstrap, small-business-promotion), or even libertarianism (preppers, survivalists, home production, get your laws off my chickens) as well as people who come from liberalism and radicalism and pragmatists who come from a simple conviction that their kid's school lunch shouldn't be so shitty. Though we certainly don't all agree on things like the role of government in society, or the degree of support for something like gay marriage, we can (and have), in joining together, significantly improved conditions for the food supply on a local and regional scale in ways that wouldn't have been possible if everyone insisted on purity in motivation and conformity on all my issues before taking part.

To me, this actually is the American way; it actually is what democracy was designed to make possible. I don't think that demanding ideological perfection from all participants would be as productive as uniting on specific issues does (after all, in New England at least, gay marriage as a cause was very much aided by libertarian support).

There's a side benefit: by participating in coalitions that bring me into contact with people who vote differently than I do or make different judgments than I do, I have an opportunity to meet them, understand them better, and for them to understand me better. In other words, we actually talk. And that's not something that happens very often when we retreat into factions in which everyone already agrees with us. In my own little corner of the world, I think that perhaps some hearts and minds may have been affected when conservative rural New Englanders met and worked with the gay couple who raise heritage poultry and the gay guy who teaches them to wild forage and make value-added products out of their perishable crops.

So I think that participating in coalitions that aim to advance an issue that you deem morally important is worthwhile, not just because it allows you to advance that issue, but because it may help forge relationships that change the outcome of other issues, and because it gives you an opportunity to represent your views with a human and individual face - making it less possible for people who think differently to become a caricature. I certainly would not participate in coalitions that were promoting hate speech or being openly exclusionary, so I don't mean to imply an "anything goes" attitude. But I think of "honoring justice" as a personal requirement, and perhaps a requirement that communities of faith or intent of which I am a member take on as a community norm, but I don't require it of everyone who I partner with, and I think that if I did, I would certainly be missing important opportunities to do productive political work that, in the end, improves the world in ways which I am morally driven to support.
posted by Miko at 9:20 AM on July 31, 2013


but ignoring that, you still have to somehow argue those metaphors aren't in service of a repressive, superstitious notion of the universe

You don't really want to understand, you just want to condemn; and that makes it not worth discussing with you.
posted by Miko at 9:21 AM on July 31, 2013


Miko: And, while honorable, I don't think I personally believe in behaving this way - excluding productive coalitions because of their failures, according to my moral systems, on other fronts.

It's not about exclusion. Because as I've said, on most other issues it never appears in activist work. But neither am I going to lie and say that it doesn't annoy the heck out of me when religious liberals claim a moral monopoly on my values, or engage in stereotyping of the atheists who often are marching and worshiping right next to them.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:46 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, yes, parable and metaphor. That takes the whole enterprise from theology to literary criticism, (where it's a disjointed and derivative mess),

No, it's theology. Because no matter how much a fundamentalist claims to be reading only the Bible, unfettered by tradition, there's always an (often unacknowledged) tradition telling that person how to read the Bible, what parts are more important, which parts to read "literally," which parts require "cultural context," etc.

So if you claim the fundamentalists are reading the Bible "as it really is" while the more liberal Christians are reading the Bible in some dishonest or disingenuous way, all you're really saying is that you like the fundamentalist tradition better than the more liberal tradition, presumably because the fundamentalists better conform to your prejudices against religion.
posted by straight at 9:51 AM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


"You don't really want to understand, you just want to condemn; and that makes it not worth discussing with you."

Its always strange for me as a Christian to be upbraided for my lack of faith in the very particular, and generally quite unpleasant, God that someone else - very specifically - doesn't believe in. It kinda makes you wonder if you're really talking to one of our many wonderful atheist brethren and not just a deeply confused and especially unpleasant type of Christian.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:27 AM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was thinking about this more over the weekend. And, while honorable, I don't think I personally believe in behaving this way - excluding productive coalitions because of their failures, according to my moral systems, on other fronts.

Miko, I don't disagree with anything you wrote in that comment except for the fact that you attribute the position you disagree with to me. "Excluding productive coalitions" is not what I said. I said I seek. Not that I won't work with or otherwise exclude coalitions because they fail some sort of purity test. In fact, my words in their full context say the opposite: "Sometimes pragmatism demands voting for or working with the lesser evil, but when possible I look for left coalitions that honor justice across as many intersections of identity as possible." Maybe "as possible" doesn't include atheists, and if so, that's unfortunate, but it won't stop me from supporting productive action.

I would like it if the groups I work with aren't sexist, aren't homophobic, aren't transphobic, aren't discriminatory or prejudiced in other ways including toward atheists. This, for me, is part of the challenge of working on the left given how easily alliances fracture (or how tensions between groups are manipulated by the right). Because I am a pragmatist I always place this ideal goal second to achieving actual reform. But if I'm working with people who voice bigotry, I'm going to speak up. I'm also going to take the opportunity to educate. These seem to me to be broad values of the left.

perhaps a requirement that communities of faith or intent of which I am a member take on as a community norm

As I said, "I seek...". This is not a command that religious people have to obey before I deign to work with them. This is, as you put it, a personal obligation. I also think it is a good thing to keep in mind in terms of coalition-building insofar as creating as big a tent as possible, but to be crystal clear on this point: People holding prejudiced beliefs about atheists isn't a deal breaker for me in terms of working toward some larger goal.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:16 AM on July 31, 2013


spaltavian: "Jesus didn't repeal Leviticus, and in fact the Bible quotes him as saying the Old Testament is still valid. But Leviticus is just the easiest target."
So if you actually open that poor damnably unread book, you'll find that most of the accounts of Jesus' ministry in the four Gospels are of parables and diatribes that represent a variety of subtle criticisms of the Tanakh, and particularly literal interpretations of it. You have solidly missed the point, and its not even an especially complex one. You are saying that in order to be Christian we would need to do to the New Testament exactly what Jesus swore at Pharisees for doing to the Tanakh.
spaltavian: "Jesus wasn't the nice guy liberal Christians want him to be; he killed a fig tree because he was mad it for not bearing fruit out of season! "
The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

If you really think its a literal fig tree that Jesus was even talking about here, much less is mad at, in what the text explicitly tells us is a figurative parable I have no idea what to tell you. So Fig Trees were a common symbol for Israel and the meaning of this parable is really not that hard. Jesus is telling His followers that they're going to die unless they start bearing fruit - and bearing fruit is a metaphor with a clear meaning used elsewhere. Now its important to understand that this is dying as in not receiving everlasting life, not as in Jesus is going to shank you.
spaltavian: "He criticized the Pharisees for not executing obedient children."
So here you are talking about Matthew 15:1-20 and and completely missing what Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees for. In this account, Pharisees criticize Jesus for failing to follow the laws set down in the Tanakh to the letter, and indeed in a literal sense he is breaking a law set down in Leviticus; eating without first washing his hands. He then calls them hypocrites for also not following laws that would be ridiculous to apply like stoning kids in a way that is plainly stupid so as to maintain the illusion of literal consistency, quotes the prophet Isaiah, and says: "What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”" He then continues, just in case anyone had still not gotten the point,

"16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”"

Quoting that passage and saying that Christians should follow everything Jesus says to the letter is like getting all the way through Ayn Rand's books to Atlas Shrugged and still believing that The Fountainhead is about architecture.
spaltavian: "The whole eye plucking thing."
So that comes from Leviticus 24, and is specifically one of the parts of the Tanakh that Jesus criticized - in the Sermon on the Mount no less!

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

Unless you think principles of non-violence are somehow immoral, I'm not really seeing what you're trying to get at here.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:22 AM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


neither am I going to lie and say that it doesn't annoy the heck out of me when religious liberals claim a moral monopoly on my values, or engage in stereotyping of the atheists who often are marching and worshiping right next to them.

Sure. That annoys the heck out of me too. No reason to lie about it and you shouldn't be expected to.

Miko, I don't disagree with anything you wrote in that comment except for the fact that you attribute the position you disagree with to me. "Excluding productive coalitions" is not what I said. I said I seek.

Sorry that I misunderstood you. It wasn't clear to me from the language that you were saying you are willing to only accept acting within such coalitions - if you "seek" some, that doesn't preclude the possibility that you might be rejecting others. I agree with everything you say, then, and think it is always my responsibility to speak up for those being disenfranchised within movements of which I'm a part. It looks like we're in perfect agreement.
posted by Miko at 11:29 AM on July 31, 2013


"Sure, Jesus is at least notionally economically populist, but noblesse oblige doesn't mean feudalism is a liberal ideology."

So reading past what Miko quoted remains not especially flattering to your biblical literacy. Noblesse oblige is pretty much the opposite of what is explicitly expected of Christians in the Gospels. Christians are repeatedly called to abandon their wealth and status in favor of the poor rather than just adapt it to their service. Besides, Christian Feudal societies never really did come up with a good way to internalize Christ's teachings on how good Christians should abandon their families:
Matthew 10: 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
and we're regularly destabilized by it.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:35 AM on July 31, 2013


Miko: You don't really want to understand, you just want to condemn; and that makes it not worth discussing with you.

To my knowledge, I did not respond or address any comment that you made.


Blasdelb: Its always strange for me as a Christian to be upbraided for my lack of faith in the very particular, and generally quite unpleasant, God that someone else - very specifically - doesn't believe in.

Not sure where you are getting that I "upbraided" you. I said if liberal Christians want to Christianity to be liberal, they need to starting writing liberal Christianity. This is not to somehow say your beliefs are less true than fundamentalist Christians- I obviously find them equally untrue- this is to say that conservatives beat you to the punch. Early Christianity had many interpretations swirling around, and the Bible itself wasn't finalized until long after 33 CE. Conservatives wrote the Bible they wanted and everyone else became heretics.

But to pretend that the book is already hippie-ready is, in my view, mistaken, becaue the book is crazy conservative.

Noblesse oblige is pretty much the opposite of what is explicitly expected of Christians in the Gospels.

I didn't mean that Christian charity is an example of noblesse oblige, I meant that just having some notional sense of economic justice does make either Christianity or Feudalism some sort of Iron Age Occupy Wall St.

So here you are talking about Matthew 15:1-20 and and completely missing what Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees for. [snip] "What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”"

So are you saying Jesus doesn't consider dishonoring ones parents to be coming out of their mouth and defiling them?

But, since you brought it up, maybe you can explain how this:

Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

is a parable of an open, liberal society?

Unless you think principles of non-violence are somehow immoral, I'm not really seeing what you're trying to get at here.

You didn't quote the eye-plucking thing, though. Unless I am remembering the quote incorrectly, it's telling the reader to pluck out one's own eye if that leads them to sin.

I am going to go ahead and say that's a bad thing to command people to do.
posted by spaltavian at 12:00 PM on July 31, 2013


spaltavian: "So are you saying Jesus doesn't consider dishonoring ones parents to be coming out of their mouth and defiling them?"
I really cannot figure out how you intend this to be parsed, but I'm still not sure what is confusing about Jesus using the example of the ridiculousness of Pharisaic justifications for not stoning rebellious children, which is self evidently not ok in an Iron Age context, to support his point about the essential hypocrisy of Pharisees trying to pick apart Jesus' life with details of Jewish law while missing the point of it.
spaltavian: "But, since you brought it up, maybe you can explain how this:

Matthew 10:34-36 Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

is a parable of an open, liberal society?
"
I was curious if anyone was actually clicking on the things I'm hyperlinking. I'll let MLK explain the neo-orthodox position shared between Catholics and most Protestants on how Jesus bringing a sword instead of peace could possibly be compatible with his many other clear refutations of violence better than I ever could,

"You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

...

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured."

-Letter From A Birmingham Jail


But yes, the whole passage is fundamentally incompatible with Feudalism, which is fundamentally unchristian, as a fetishization of the family above all else.
spaltavian: "You didn't quote the eye-plucking thing, though. Unless I am remembering the quote incorrectly, it's telling the reader to pluck out one's own eye if that leads them to sin.

I am going to go ahead and say that's a bad thing to command people to do.
"
I can only imagine that the dearth of self-blinded Christians, liberal or otherwise, might be a helpful clue as to how we see this instruction. If you want to get a more nuanced idea of how we feel about self-mutilation in search of perfection read Galatians 3, protip: the whole thing is about circumcision.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:26 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah the MLK quote doesn't actually address the "sword" thing very well but that's not really the problem. The making the father and the brother and the sister and the family dog "enemies" is the problem. "Enemy" actually mean something. It means live and let live is impossible in his vision.

Has for the eye plucking thing, you are again missing my point. As I said before, I get that Jesus talks in parables. The issue is what do those parables mean? What he's saying there is that nothing is as important as obedience to his rules. Do whatever you have to do to walk the path he tells you to walk. Even if it means destroying a part of yourself. Even if it means making an enemy of your family.

Again, I argue that is a bad thing to command people to do. Self sacrificial devotion to authority is pretty much definitionally conservative.
posted by spaltavian at 3:01 PM on July 31, 2013


To my knowledge, I did not respond or address any comment that you made.

You are addressing me, as a class, in everything you're trying to say here about your view of "liberal Christians."

if liberal Christians want to Christianity to be liberal, they need to starting writing liberal Christianity

Because you think that doesn't happen? Where does your personal lack of knowledge on a topic end, and liberal Christian failings begin?

Yeah the MLK quote doesn't actually address the "sword" thing very well

Of course it does. It is a specific example of the general principle.

The issue is what do those parables mean? What he's saying there is that nothing is as important as obedience to his rules. Do whatever you have to do to walk the path he tells you to walk. Even if it means destroying a part of yourself. Even if it means making an enemy of your family.

I think it's not necessarily Jesus as a personal authority that some people are getting from this. It's a set of principles, more important than any individual up to and including Jesus (as his tale demonstrates later). In this discussion, he observes that allegiance to these principles - however right - can cause families to become enemies. And they can, as anyone who has taken issue with the moral principles of their families can tell you. At the same time, it is entirely possible to recognize this metaphorical sword which will cut you off from your loved ones, and also try to pursue the many other principles about not sitting in judgment of others, not performing religiosity for status, turning the other cheek, etc. If it's a metaphor, it's a metaphor for a particular interaction and situation that occurs when principles are in conflict. There are also other metaphors about how you should act in such situations.
posted by Miko at 3:30 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think if you want to understand how liberal Christians think it may also help to not try so hard to prove that Jesus was a dick.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:37 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


spaltavian, with your comments about "making an enemy of your family" and plucking your eye out, you are doing exactly the thing you claimed you weren't doing when I mentioned Herod the Fox.

There's no indication that the people listening to Jesus understood his words the way you're interpreting them, and there is a very long tradition of Christians reading those words differently than you are interpreting them. Maybe you can point to a few Christians who have read them that way, but they are very much a minority and outside the mainstream of Christianity.
posted by straight at 4:20 PM on July 31, 2013


"Has for the eye plucking thing, you are again missing my point. As I said before, I get that Jesus talks in parables. The issue is what do those parables mean? What he's saying there is that nothing is as important as obedience to his rules. Do whatever you have to do to walk the path he tells you to walk. Even if it means destroying a part of yourself. Even if it means making an enemy of your family."

His principles, but yes, Christianity is indeed a very radical religion. You keep saying that all the original Christians were 'conservative' like that was nothing more than a synonym for bad ideas, but even then it would be hard to describe early Christians like Saint Telemachus as conservative rather than the radical reformers they were.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:38 PM on July 31, 2013


as for the eye plucking thing, you are again missing my point. As I said before, I get that Jesus talks in parables. The issue is what do those parables mean? What he's saying there is that nothing is as important as obedience to his rules. Do whatever you have to do to walk the path he tells you to walk. Even if it means destroying a part of yourself. Even if it means making an enemy of your family.

I take back my previous comment spaltavian. I guess I did misunderstand you. Even allowing for the hyperbole of eye-plucking, I agree with you that Jesus was saying (and that Christians have historically understood him to say) that his disciples should be willing to sacrifice themselves and sacrifice relationships with family and friends in order to follow the Way he was teaching and modelling.

But like Blasdelb, I would disagree with you that being willing to sacrifice, to part company with friends and family, for what you believe is right and just, is a bad thing or a necessarily conservative thing.
posted by straight at 10:27 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


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