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"We’re just Christians who think the political and Christian right-wing have their priorities wrong."
December 14, 2010 5:54 AM   Subscribe

The Christian left is a term originating in the United States, used to describe a spectrum of left-wing Christian political and social movements which largely embraces social justice. "We will not be profiled or pigeonholed and we will not ‘Be Quiet.’ We’re Christians. We’re Liberals. Please get used to it. Thank you."
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit (145 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Should come as no surprise: the civil rights movement was due in large part to organizational efforts of Churches.
posted by clarknova at 6:05 AM on December 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


People who believe in political ideals I agree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being are a very, very small step up from people who believe in political ideals I disagree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being.
posted by googly at 6:05 AM on December 14, 2010 [20 favorites]


See, it wasn’t just Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection that matter. It was his life too! The life he lived is a huge part of the deal, and he asked us to do a few things if you look at his words.

Yes, but this would be the Jesus of the New Testament. Right wing Christians are more into the prequel of Christianity which starred Jesus as a capricious, vengeful, and still Jewish God.
posted by three blind mice at 6:06 AM on December 14, 2010


There's a great FPP to be made about this stuff, but I feel it would be better served with a series of links about the history of left-wing Christianity in the United States. The movement to abolish slavery was largely a Christian movement, and as far as 20th century movements go, I think The Catholic Worker Movement really needs a mention here. They're still active nationwide. They have a communal farm North of where I live and a CW house downtown that regularly participates in anti-war demonstrations.
posted by TrialByMedia at 6:06 AM on December 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm glad there are Christians that intend on not being quiet about social justice issues. It'll be a refreshing change from the last 30-40 years.
posted by DU at 6:06 AM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


I enjoyed the brief moment where I thought the post below this one was part of this one.
The Christian left is a term originating in the United States, used to describe a spectrum of left-wing Christian political and social movements which largely embraces social justice. "We will not be profiled or pigeonholed and we will not ‘Be Quiet.’ We’re Christians. We’re Liberals. Please get used to it. Thank you."

Well, right or wrong they sing either way.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:10 AM on December 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure about the point of this FPP. Of course there are liberal Christians, that's what Christianity is about (as long as you don't listen to the right wing). TrialByMedia is correct, there's a good FPP that could be done about this.
posted by HuronBob at 6:10 AM on December 14, 2010


Not really originating, surely? Socialist/liberal politics and Christianity have long been bedfellows in the UK, and non-Conformism and anti-Establishmentism pretty much gave birth to one another. See also The Christian Socialist Movement:

www.thecsm.org.uk

To my mind, as a UK liberal Christian, the US extreme right and Christianity are crazily antithetical, and it shocks and saddens me that anyone would think that their combination is in any way the default.

I can see some (ordinary) right wing policies coming near to Jesus's teaching, with regards to charitable giving rather than government, and lots of Republicans I am sure are great Christians (far better than me). But fundamentally, Jesus was a socialist.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 6:14 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


The phrase ['From each according to his ability, to each according to his need'] has its origin in the New Testament.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:18 AM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure about the point of this FPP.

Same here. Seems to be a pretty thin plug for a specialty website.
posted by clarknova at 6:26 AM on December 14, 2010


It's time that the politicized, nationalistic right-wing Christian movement be exposed for the heretical sect that it is. More peace and love, please.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:26 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


If I could send a message to every person on Earth who has ever encountered a Chrstian, it would be: "We are not all crazy people. Have a nice day."

I'm not sure this website accomplishes that, but I guess I salute them for trying.
posted by snapped at 6:30 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Can I just say, they're a little bit late to the party? Where've they been the last twenty or so years?
posted by newdaddy at 6:31 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


My wife is a lay member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. She serves on their Mission Council and has been the "Justice Promoter" (not always sure what the means, but it results in her ending up in places in the far east and South America doing things that concern me!)

Their "mission statement" is here.

It is a fantastic group, doing what, IMHO, Christians should be doing on this earth.
posted by HuronBob at 6:32 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


googly: People who believe in political ideals I agree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being are a very, very small step up from people who believe in political ideals I disagree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being.

So people who don't believe in political ideals you agree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being are what, exactly? A big step up? Your logic here makes no sense.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:36 AM on December 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


Hey I could really use your money and votes to reinforce the Fourth Amendment and socialize health care but I think your beliefs are founded on bad epistemological principles so go fuck yourselves.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:36 AM on December 14, 2010 [18 favorites]


People who believe in political ideals I agree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being are a very, very small step up from people who believe in political ideals I disagree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being.
posted by googly at 6:05 AM on December 14


Are you against religion for its contemptuous, high-handed dismissal of the validity of others' beliefs and reason? Is that it?
posted by knoyers at 6:37 AM on December 14, 2010 [48 favorites]


School of the Americas Watch was founded by a Jesuit. Jesuit priests have a long history of radical troublemaking. See, for example, American Hero Dan Berrigan one of the Catonsville Nine.

Pardon the wikipedia laziness.
posted by entropone at 6:37 AM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Of course there are liberal Christians, that's what Christianity is about

Liberal Christians would seem to be a minority. In the U.S., at least, Christian churches are not only no longer left-leaning, but form a bedrock of the hard right.

DU is right. 30 or 40 years ago Christian churches (Southern Baptist to Roman Catholic) were bastions of social justice. Even further back than that opposition to slavery received a great deal of support from Christian pulpits. But this has completely been reversed in the past few decades.

"But fundamentally Jesus was a socialist" is only half the story. Jesus was was always going on about the poor and encouraging charity and telling people to forgive this and forgive that showing concern for prisoners, prostitutes, and children.

It would seem that too many Americans who call themselves Christian see "charity", "the poor", "prisoners", and "forgiveness" as things to revile.

As I snarked above, somewhere in the last 30-40 years, Jesus of the New Testament was put aside for Jesus of the Old Testament and opposition to social justice (abortion, welfare, etc.) became the agenda for main stream American Christians.

Really a total transformation of the movement.

"We are not all crazy people. Have a nice day."

No doubt, snapped but how is it that the "crazy people" seem to be in the overwhelming majority?
posted by three blind mice at 6:37 AM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


We're here, we're queer liberal Christians, get used to it?
posted by modernnomad at 6:40 AM on December 14, 2010


newdaddy: Can I just say, they're a little bit late to the party? Where've they been the last twenty or so years?

Really? Have you bothered to visit an Episcopal or Unitarian or Quaker congregation (among others). Do you see who provides large amounts of aid to disaster relief? They've been doing the same thing the most of us liberals have: fighting for social justice, informing people about the qualities of acceptance, telling people to respect nature, fighting for gender/racial/orientation equality, pushing for peace worldwide, and much much more.

And to be honest, they've been a damn sight better job of it than, say, Code Pink or Ralph Nader and some of the kookier members of the blogosphere.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:44 AM on December 14, 2010 [22 favorites]


There are, as far as I can tell, two main groups of Christians who find themselves drawn to progressive/liberal politics.

The first are theological liberals of the sort who are mostly found in Protestant mainline denominations, e.g. the ECUSA, ELCA, UMC, PCUSA, UCC, etc. Granted, there are theological conservatives in those denominations too, which has led to considerable tension and numerous schismatic movements in those denominations, but the vast majority of theological liberals can be found in those traditions.

That theological liberals, who tend to place a premium on rationalism, egalitarianism, and various other Enlightenment ideals, should be drawn to political liberalism is not terribly surprising. Christians in those traditions have been part of the political left for well over a century.

The second group is where things get really interesting: there are a growing number of theological conservatives who are drawn to political liberalism as well. Maintaining one's identity as a theological conservative while eschewing political conservatism is a tricky move, for several reasons.

First, American civil religion involves a pretty tight connection between theological and political conservatism. A lot of mainstream Evangelicals would be surprised at the suggestion that it's possible to be both Christian and politically liberal, so there's a lot of cultural inertia against such a move. Here we get people like Sarah Palin, James Dobson, etc.: unsophisticated but theologically conservative people who have uncritically and enthusiastically hitched their train to movement conservatism. There are, to no MeFite's surprise, quite a number of these people.

Second, political liberalism, as a big tent movement, does include a number of planks in its platform that theologically conservative types will find objectionable, particularly abortion, but potentially sexual ethics as well. It is possible to navigate this tension--not all progressives are pro-choice, etc.--but again, the cultural inertia makes this tricky, particularly because...

Third, many political liberals, if they are Christians at all, are also theological liberals, so it can be difficult for a progressive-minded but theologically conservative Christian to maintain their identity as a theological conservative. There have been a number of comments so far about how progressive politics are what Jesus taught and that Jesus was really a socialist. Most theologically conservative Christians would reject those assertions as missing the point just as badly as the civil religion types who think that Jesus was a free marketeer. The traditional Gospel message is not one of rugged individualism or collective responsibility, but about man's sin and God's plan for the salvation of souls. This does not necessarily suggest any particular political system,* but the attraction to let one's politics dictate one's theology rather than the other way around is real, and it can be quite difficult to consistently discern which one is doing, regardless of the direction one's politics lean.

For that reason, a lot of theological conservatives, myself included, are pretty uncomfortable aligning ourselves with any political movement. But the emergence of a counter-balance to the overwhelming weight of political conservatism in American Christianity could be a good thing, so long as it encourages more Christians to seriously evaluate their political commitments and does not merely become another weapon that Left and Right use to pick at each other.

*Except possibly that having one is better than not. Christian theologians have been all over the map on which political system they favor--orthodox theologians have gone for monarchial, feudal, republican, democratic, and communal forms of government--but anarchism has been pretty roundly rejected by the majority. There have been Christian anarchists, but most of them were branded heretics for other reasons.
posted by valkyryn at 6:45 AM on December 14, 2010 [27 favorites]


Hey I could really use your money and votes to reinforce the Fourth Amendment and socialize health care but I think your beliefs are founded on bad epistemological principles so go fuck yourselves.

As an agnostic antiwar activist said to me back in 2001: 'If you want to demonstrate in the south, you have to learn to work with Baptists.'

The Perfect, enemy of The Good, etc.
posted by clarknova at 6:47 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


newdaddy: "Can I just say, they're a little bit late to the party? Where've they been the last twenty or so years?"

For the record, I was two years old 20 years ago, but many of the institutions that make up much of the Christian left - the Catholic Worker, America and Commonweal magazines - date from World War I. Even a relatively new organization like Sojourners was founded in the early 70s. The Civil Rights movement was in essence a broad Jewish-Christian leftist coalition. The peace churches, of course, date back even earlier.

In other words, there's a big difference between how long something's been around and how long people pay attention, or how long people lump a somewhat disparate group of people together using one term. There are Christians who are military-loving Blue Dog Democrats, and Christians who are pacifist anarchists, Christians who vote straight ticket Democrat in every election (and have since FDR) and Christians who think the very act of voting is a sin, Christians who hold giant fundraisers and Christians who swear themselves to voluntary poverty. To proclaim oneself the representative of all these folks, as this website does, is more than a little disingenuous and self-serving.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:47 AM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


I am not a christian, but when I was, I knew a lot of christians that were very liberal. However, the feeling I get now (and, I suppose then as well), was that no TRUE christian would be a liberal.

I think this is mostly a matter of PR, to be honest. People with an agenda are conscripting the brand of christianity in order to promote their own viewpoints. They are relying on supposid historic american virtues, saying we should return to what made america great etc etc. People love to hear that. I think that's why they're buying in to it.
posted by rebent at 6:48 AM on December 14, 2010


Code Pink or Ralph Nader and some of the kookier members of the blogosphere.

I don't know anything about Code Pink, but can you really doubt Nader's contribution to relieving human suffering?
Nader's advocacy of automobile safety and the publicity generated by the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed, along with concern over escalating nationwide traffic fatalities, contributed to the unanimous passage of the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The act established the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and marked a historic shift in responsibility for automobile safety from the consumer to the manufacturer. The legislation mandated a series of safety features for automobiles, beginning with safety belts and stronger windshields.
posted by DU at 6:50 AM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


People who believe in political ideals I agree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being are a very, very small step up from people who believe in political ideals I disagree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being.

Then you're less concerned about social justice than you are about hating people who believe differently than you.
posted by rocket88 at 6:52 AM on December 14, 2010 [20 favorites]


... can you really doubt Nader's contribution to relieving human suffering?

With all the people who have bitched at me for voting for him, he has significantly increased my suffering.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:56 AM on December 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


School of the Americas Watch was founded by a Jesuit.

Fr. Ray Bourgeois was a Maryknoll priest, wasn't he? Unfortunately he was recently excommunicated for participating in a woman's ordination to the priesthood.

Jesuits are definitely at the forefront of this stuff, though. Just yesterday two Jesuits, a nun, and two laywomen were found guilty for breaking into the Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base as part of a protest against nuclear weapons. They each face up to ten years in prison.
posted by Sfving at 6:56 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


People who believe in political ideals I agree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being are a very, very small step up from people who believe in political ideals I disagree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being.

Oh, please.

I'm an atheist myself, but there are just as many people with shallow, selfish, poorly-thought-out beliefs on my side of the fence as on theirs. Replacing the bible in your drawer with a copy of Atlas Shrugged or Being And Nothingless and genuflecting to the invisible hand of the marketplace instead of the local bishop doesn't make you a better person.

You don't need believe in the supernatural to be a Christian any more than you need to believe in the corporeal reality of man named Galt to be a Randroid, but people will still loudly declare this fiction to be a far superior moral guide to that fiction, for no better reason than wanting a moral justification for their selfishness, pissing off their parents and maybe eating the occasional lobster.
posted by mhoye at 6:59 AM on December 14, 2010 [16 favorites]


Can I just say, they're a little bit late to the party? Where've they been the last twenty or so years?

Huge overbroad generalization:

Liberal Christians are more similar to Secular Liberals, in the positions they hold, than Conservative Christians are to Secular Conservatives. In the case of the secular-religious alliance on the Left, we might have slightly different reasons for supporting increased funding for services for the poor, but we both think that's a great idea. On the right, though, the secular faction doesn't have as much interest in the culture war, and that means that on a number of flagship conservative issues, the religious aspect is much more obvious, since hardcore support is (mostly) limited to religious conservatives.

In other words, we secular liberals have a pretty easy time hanging out with our religious counterparts, because while we may come at things from a slightly different angle, there's less often an easy way to say "aha! This person holds this liberal position because of religion," whereas on the conservative side, there are a lot more religiously-driven positions.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:00 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


three blind mice: DU is right. 30 or 40 years ago Christian churches (Southern Baptist to Roman Catholic) were bastions of social justice. Even further back than that opposition to slavery received a great deal of support from Christian pulpits. But this has completely been reversed in the past few decades
[...]
As I snarked above, somewhere in the last 30-40 years, Jesus of the New Testament was put aside for Jesus of the Old Testament and opposition to social justice (abortion, welfare, etc.) became the agenda for main stream American Christians.

Really a total transformation of the movement.


Not exactly. White Protestantism in this country, particularly Baptists, have risen in prominence in religious America, and are almost entirely for the movement towards the right. Black Southern Baptist churches still preach much of the social progressivism that they did in the last century.

And mainstream Catholics, the ones who haven't become increasingly attached to Rome and all of it's Borgia-esque renewal, still make up a significant portion, if not an outright majority of the population. They're still mainly leftists, supporters of rights for the working class (a lot of union members are Catholic), want to maintain social welfare, are not concerned with vilifying contraception, and while opposed to abortion actually have arguments that aren't histrionic to the point of verbal or physical violence.

Yes, they're not full-bore liberals. A lot of Black churches still rail against GLBT issues, to the point where it's concerning. And many Catholics have "pro-life" arguments that differ little from anti-choice propaganda. But that's 2 steps forward, 1 step back in terms of social justice, and there's no reason to see that even those folks might see the light (as it were).
posted by zombieflanders at 7:01 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


A lot of people will rightly insist that Christian teaching is about helping others. But there's a great divide in there that well serves the conservative outlook. Person A helps person B after they fail, rather than many people making sure that person B doesn't fail. This choice is hinged by personal salvation, and highlighting charity as a personal responsibility rather than a public one. Modernly this translates into a divide as well. Elitism is preserved from the primary viewpoint of having each person save themselves, and by seeing wretched humanity as normal to the plan. This viewpoint makes sense of an invisible God's hand in judging sin and righteousness. It also keeps most of us from assuming the randomness of fate, which is not Christian and leads directly to liberalism.
posted by Brian B. at 7:02 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


You don't need believe in the supernatural to be a Christian

Come again? I mean, you don't need to believe in the supernatural, but the idea that one can be a Christian, i.e. believing in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, without doing so strikes me as using the word in a way which deprives it of all meaning.

I grant you that substituting one ideology for another does not seem to make that much of a difference--all belief systems are ultimately circular, it's merely a matter of where you're comfortable drawing your circle--but I'm pretty comfortable maintaining that if you don't believe in God, than whatever you are, you aren't a Christian.
posted by valkyryn at 7:02 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Are you against religion for its contemptuous, high-handed dismissal of the validity of others' beliefs and reason? Is that it?

Then you're less concerned about social justice than you are about hating people who believe differently than you.

No, and no. I don't hate people who are Christian or religious or who have any religious belief system, and said nothing of the sort. Nor do I contemptuously dismiss the validity of their beliefs.

My point - and it was made in an admittedly snarky way - was simply that I am not an ends-justify-the-means type of guy, if the means is that you believe things because you think they were written in a book by a supernatural being. A heck of a lot of damage has been done by people who act because they think they have god's sanction to promote social injustice. I'm just very uneasy at the idea that humans can claim divine sanction for their actions, whether they are good or bad. So yes, I support the idea of a "left" Christianity that promotes social justice, because it may lead to some outcomes that I believe are good, but I still don't like the idea of a religious text providing the guiding principles for political or social action.
posted by googly at 7:04 AM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


You don't need believe in the supernatural to be a Christian...

C.S. Lewis would disagree with you.

The author defines a miracle as "an interference with Nature by a supernatural power," and proceeds to examine the question of whether we have grounds for believing that there exists something that can properly be called supernatural (this involves definitions of Nature other than just "everything that exists"), whether there are grounds for supposing that that something could not or would not interfere with the workings of Nature, and what sort of view of reality is involved in the Christian assertion of the Miracle of the Incarnation (God took human nature upon Himself in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth).
posted by Joe Beese at 7:04 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Christian Socialism is a lot older than the OP seems to think.
posted by unSane at 7:09 AM on December 14, 2010


Christian Socialism is a lot older than the OP seems to think.

Yes, but again, most Christian socialists were theological liberals long before they were political liberals. What the OP is attempting to highlight--though you really couldn't tell from the post--is that there are an increasing number of theological conservatives who are becoming political liberals, or at least adopting and/or adapting some political positions traditionally associated with the political left.

I think zombieflanders is probably right that these people aren't going to be "full-bore" liberals. Theological conservatives are always going to part ways with the secular left on reproductive rights and usually on issues of sexual ethics. But that aside, it's still an interesting theological, cultural, and social phenomenon.
posted by valkyryn at 7:13 AM on December 14, 2010


DU: I don't know anything about Code Pink, but can you really doubt Nader's contribution to relieving human suffering?

His contribtutions from the 1960s and 1970s were significant (and welcome), so you'll get no argument from me there. However, the question was framed as what had been done in the last twenty years, which ranges from not much to fairly shitty. In the 90s he had to be goaded into supporting racial and GLBT equality in a modern progressive fashion, his 2000 presidential run more likely than not decided the course of the country for the next 8 years in a very bad way, and he has likely ensured the dominance of the moderate wing of the Democratic party for a generation or three.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:16 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gotta agree that this is a thin post. Here's an AskMe question I asked about the Catholic left a year or so ago that has some great links and suggestions in the comments - I asked it as a atheist working for a liberal Catholic and feeling generally inspired but mildly awkward about the whole thing. Meanwhile, Jim Wallis/Sojourners seem to be the center of many good things in the evangelical left now.
posted by naoko at 7:22 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


My point - and it was made in an admittedly snarky way - was simply that I am not an ends-justify-the-means type of guy, if the means is that you believe things because you think they were written in a book by a supernatural being. A heck of a lot of damage has been done by people who act because they think they have god's sanction to promote social injustice. I'm just very uneasy at the idea that humans can claim divine sanction for their actions, whether they are good or bad. So yes, I support the idea of a "left" Christianity that promotes social justice, because it may lead to some outcomes that I believe are good, but I still don't like the idea of a religious text providing the guiding principles for political or social action.


What do you consider a valid source of guiding principles for political or social action? It seems awfully arrogant to assume that your own mental reasoning provides a more pure and justified motivation for your political beliefs and that left-wing Christians are slavishly reading instructions out of a book and acting on them.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:23 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Dismissing left-leaning Christians because our fellow believers (and I use that term loosely) have been the louder and more politically savvy and successful group in the past 30 years is like dismissing all of America during the early aughts: easy to understand why it's done, possibly deserved, but still pretty much a asshole move that dismisses a whole lot of good people in order to make a cheap shot.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:24 AM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


It would seem that too many Americans who call themselves Christian see "charity", "the poor", "prisoners", and "forgiveness" as things to revile.

Fixed that for ya!
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:24 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


People who believe in political ideals I agree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being...

Man, tough crowd. The proof is in the pudding, friend. If someone believes torture is wrong, let's say, or that we should support public schools, or what have you, why do they have to pass some kind of ideological purity test? Why does it matter if this person's moral code was learned in conjunction with other Judeo-Christian traditions? Do you disavow the works of Dr. King and others like him because they are/were Christians? Shame on you.
posted by Mister_A at 7:25 AM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


... an Episcopal or Unitarian or Quaker congregation ...

Point of order: Unitarianism is not really a Christian denomination, at least not as it's practiced in North America. It grew out of Christianity, but if you define "Christian" as "believes in the divinity of Christ", then you can be a Unitarian without being a Christian. Or while being a Christian.

posted by Johnny Assay at 7:27 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


People who believe in political ideals I agree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being are a very, very small step up from people who believe in political ideals I disagree with because they think they were written in a book by a supernatural being.

Wow. So are you contemptuous of other groups whose motivation for political ideals might not be as pure as yours either?

"Damn those shallow hipsters who protested for Single-Payer health care, away with those college students who sang songs on the bus to an election rally, doom to TV celebrities with identifiable political positions! Their precious liberal bodily fluids are simply not as pure as mine!"
posted by aught at 7:44 AM on December 14, 2010


Fr. Ray Bourgeois was a Maryknoll priest, wasn't he?

Oops, indeed.
posted by entropone at 7:51 AM on December 14, 2010


but I still don't like the idea of a religious text providing the guiding principles for political or social action.

As others have pointed out, what can provide guiding principles? Everything is interpretable according to your own perspective. Whether someone bases their beliefs on expected consequences, a categorical imperative, living a good life, or what a book (divine or just beloved) says, the way they understand and use those guides is not clear cut. In the end, it's all just down to the choices you make. If having a role model and a community and some poetry/ideas helps people feel like they have a better way to make choices, then that seems like it could be a good thing.

The potential problem is more about whether the community is repressive or the role model is negative - but that is an issue of interpretation, once again, and it's certainly possible to do that in a secular environment too (and social authorities can be just as absolute as divine ones - from an atheist perspective they are really no different).

The "Christian Right" tends to be based in the Evangelical or Fundamentalist churches. There has always been something of a christian left in Catholic or mainline protestant churches (methodist, lutheran, unitarian... with female and gay clergy, for instance...).

Colbert is a good example of a current left-leaning christian, I think - he clearly emphasizes the parts of his belief system that speak to helping "the least of my brothers" rather than any judgmental aspects.
posted by mdn at 7:56 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wish I wasn't at work right now, because this is exactly the kind of discussion I would really enjoy participating in on the Blue.

I have no answer to your question, three blind mice, but I must say that I find myself even trying to run away from the "Christian" label these days because of the overwhelming perception that we are all crazy, irrational, and generally offensive ilk.

On the one hand I think that maybe the majority are crazy, and they tend to abuse those who disagree with them. But just like a bad Chinese restaurant, I'm sure that people tend to bitch a lot more about the bad experiences than they rave about the good ones. I've never had a conversation with someone where they said, "Oh, I met a really great Christian person today." So if there are lots of gracious, kind, compassionate Christians out there, and even if they are in the majority, they're probably spending more time DOING good things than making an effort to change the world's perception of Christians.
posted by snapped at 8:06 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


"We will not be profiled or pigeonholed and we will not ‘Be Quiet.’"

Yes, because the problem with the Christian left in the U.S. is that they're too loud.
posted by Zozo at 8:08 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I admire many Christian and Jewish liberals, but as an atheist I am a little wary. I can't help suspecting that they are liberal because they happen to have natural inclinations in that direction rather than because they have reached that position through careful thought and exploration. I can't help suspecting that because they* demonstrate through their religious beliefs that they are capable of believing ridiculous things that fly in the face of empirical reason.

So it's great that they're liberal, but we can't really count on them to be sensible on arbitrary issues because their beliefs, like their conservative counterparts', are really just a collection of prejudices and conclusions based on false assumptions. (A generation ago many of them were liberal on civil rights w/r/t African-Americans but still largely opposed to civil rights w/r/t LGBT people, for example.) And because they identify as Christians or Jews, they contribute to America's enormous bias towards religion, which means, among other things, that politicians have to be religious and that we can't have a wholly secular public debate about anything.

tl;dr: Being right for the wrong reasons is better than being wrong for the wrong reasons, but it's not as good as being right for the right reasons.

* I'm not talking about Christians and Jews who don't believe in the supernatural, as they are by definition atheists as well, or about those who are essentially deists.
posted by callmejay at 8:09 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty comfortable maintaining that if you don't believe in God, than whatever you are, you aren't a Christian.

There's a difference in degrees of belief to be found here between believing "this water-to-wine parable is a good story and a complex narrative that conveys a sensible moral and rewards deeper thought" as compared to "he physically turned regular well water into vintage wine, and we should cower in obeisance faced with these mystical powers".

Nobody turned water into wine with a handwave. A person who can do that doesn't exist. But the Golden Rule doesn't exist either. "Right" and "left" don't exist. The m-dash and the Oxford Comma don't exist. Your name doesn't exist. We've just made all those things up, and some of them have proven to be good and useful ideas. Ideas are in some sense real regardless of their corporeality, and while I'm not arguing in favor of blind, unfiltered credulousness, I am saying that there is lots of nuance to be found around this thing we're calling "belief" here, and it's worthy of deeper consideration.

While C.S. Lewis and I disagree in many particulars, I still think The Screwtape Letters is a good book that rewards multiple readings, for example. Having said that, my "being and nothingless" typo above doesn't lend a ton of weight to my arguments so there's also that.
posted by mhoye at 8:12 AM on December 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


Um, I think the 'No True Christian' argument has been pretty well done to death here, and I'm not sure why we feel the need to, er, resurrect it.

I am more interested in in exploring the relationship between the 'emerging' or 'progressive' evangelical movement and the older mainline-Protestant & Roman Catholic movements. For me, the way that the Church works out its proper role in the world changes in relation to the way it understands the relationship among Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit, human reason and tradition.

(what follows is my opinion based on observation -- ymmv)

For conservative evangelicals & fundamentalists, the Bible is seen as a basically unproblematic text that is read 'literally' and applied straightforwardly to modern issues. I've seen some incredible feats of theological athleticism used to explain (away) various contradictions between the literary material in the Bible and traditional theology (such as the reconciling of the two Creation stories in Genesis and a science-textbook theology of Scripture) -- it is clear to me that this tradition elevates a certain tradition (a somewhat convoluted method of reading the Bible) over the other three (the story of Scripture itself, human reason and the testimony of the Holy Spirit. It's pretty interesting to see how an Evangelical reads the Bible -- there is an unacknowledged (fiercely denied, actually) appeal to a certain framework for understanding how to read the Bible, combined with a pretty post-modern and individualistic application of the texts to the reader's needs at the moment.

So for instance, if Susie Q. Evangelical is reading Psalm 139, she will almost certainly hear in the line "You knit me together in my mother's womb / I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made / your works are wonderful, I know that full well" a clear Biblical rejection of abortion, and also a direct affirmation that God loves her and has a wonderful plan for her life. This is because of the tradition she has embraced.

In my own theological meanderings, I have come to place less value on the somewhat narrow conservative Reformed Protestant tradition in which I was raised (which more explicitly than the Evangelical tradition has identified a particular set of doctrines, creeds and confessions as the first principles for Christian moral and social theology), and more value on both the ongoing renewal work of the Holy Spirit (whom I would define as the divine person who is tasked to guide me personally as well as the whole Church toward greater love of God, neighbour and self) and on the tradition (which I would define as the collective wisdom and experience of the whole Church through the ages, especially as she has come to listen to an ever-growing and more-diverse body of believers, beginning with a few Galilean peasants and growing to encompass the testimony of Gentiles, barbarians, women, blacks, gays….)

It is within that framework that I reconcile the principles of Scripture, tradition, reason and Spirit: the Holy Spirit, moving the people of God to reason out what they experience God to be doing now in light of the story of God whose beginning acts are revealed in Scripture -- and responding by joining God in God's mission to reestablish a just and peaceful world.

I don't know whether that puts me in the mainline or prog-evo camp in terms of my theology.
posted by tivalasvegas at 8:13 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


A generation ago many of them were liberal on civil rights w/r/t African-Americans but still largely opposed to civil rights w/r/t LGBT people, for example.

This is true of a great many secular folks as well, though.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:14 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fr. Ray Bourgeois was a Maryknoll priest, wasn't he?

Roy, I believe.
posted by Ahab at 8:18 AM on December 14, 2010


My point - and it was made in an admittedly snarky way

Might I suggest you consider paring back on the snark, because here it reads as contempt, and decidedly assholish.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:25 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I admire many Christian and Jewish liberals, but as an atheist I am a little wary. I can't help suspecting that they are liberal because they happen to have natural inclinations in that direction rather than because they have reached that position through careful thought and exploration. I can't help suspecting that because they* demonstrate through their religious beliefs that they are capable of believing ridiculous things that fly in the face of empirical reason.

I hear you, but (in my experience, and anecdotally in the experience of many of my centre-left friends), it has taken a lot of spiritual (not the best word probably, but I mean it in a secular way if that makes sense) work to deprogramme from the conservative religiopoliticocultural ideology in which many of us were reared. There are plenty of conservative Christians who have quite liberal inclinations, in terms of being personally compassionate and generous. This is the crowd which gives quite freely to developing-world charities and volunteers at soup kitchens and which maintains an honest "love the sinner, hate the sin" type approach to gays, fornicators and other persons who do not fit their mould of what it means to be 'godly.' I realise that a lot of people who SAY "love the sinner, hate the sin" really mean "look down upon the sinner because they are SINNING and also gay people are scary and gross" but this is not true for everyone who says stuff like that, a lot of people just haven't considered the extent to which they are parroting in good faith phrases that were originated by pretty despicable religious leaders. If they had not grown up with this idea that Christian = conservative Republican, I think they would be much more open to exploring such issues as environmental action, equal rights for minorities, redistribution of wealth and other stuff which are pigeonholed at the moment as liberal issues but which in my mind, and in the mind of many Christians, are pretty obviously issues that Jesus would be (is!) concerned about.
posted by tivalasvegas at 8:31 AM on December 14, 2010


I don't know whether that puts me in the mainline or prog-evo camp in terms of my theology.

For what it's worth, I'd venture to guess that while your description doesn't strike me as a classic liberal theology position, it's closer to that than to traditional theological conservatism, for its willingness to put personal experience above received/revealed wisdom if for no other reason. But I'd agree that you're describing a somewhat idiosyncratic position.

Which, I think, serves to highlight the tensions I was talking about earlier: theological conservatives who find themselves drawn to political liberalism--even for theological reasons!--frequently find it difficult to maintain their theological conservatism, at least in part because of the excesses of theological conservatism.
posted by valkyryn at 8:34 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ahab: "Fr. Ray Bourgeois was a Maryknoll priest, wasn't he?"

It is Roy. He's also still a priest, depending on who you ask. *

So, this basically gets down to whether you believe the Vatican decides to make someone a not-priest or whether you believe someone makes themselves a not-priest by doing certain things. If you think the former, then this is what happened: the Vatican threatened (in a letter) to laitize Fr. Roy for participating in the ordination of a woman if he didn't renounce his actions in 30 days but, despite his position not changing, the Vatican never followed through (with a second letter, telling him he can't be a priest anymore). He's still a priest. If you think the opposite, though, it was participating in the ordination that made him a not-priest and its not incumbent on the Vatican to write him a second letter. Of course, if you think that, it suggests he was a not-priest the moment he participated, and the Vatican never had to write him the first letter in the first place, which is where this all falls apart.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:34 AM on December 14, 2010


This is true of a great many secular folks as well, though.

Is it? To a similar extent? I have to admit I don't really know -- there just weren't that many open atheists I can find who took a position on gay rights back then who weren't themselves gay. But I'd be surprised if it were true.
posted by callmejay at 8:34 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


If they had not grown up with this idea that Christian = conservative Republican, I think they would be much more open to exploring such issues as environmental action, equal rights for minorities, redistribution of wealth and other stuff which are pigeonholed at the moment as liberal issues but which in my mind, and in the mind of many Christians, are pretty obviously issues that Jesus would be (is!) concerned about.

That kind of reinforces my point, which is that atheists are more prone to questioning everything, while Christians -- even liberal ones -- are less so. Simply by being a Christian (who believes in the supernatural) they have demonstrated a willingness to not question something that is to me obviously untrue.
posted by callmejay at 8:38 AM on December 14, 2010


I can't help suspecting that because they* demonstrate through their religious beliefs that they are capable of believing ridiculous things that fly in the face of empirical reason.

So you're following an intellectual path based on suspicion, conjecture, prejudice, and unconfirmed beliefs.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:41 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's like Steven Weinberg said (although it's obviously an exaggeration):

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil. But for good people to do evil -- that takes religion."

Those Christians you write about who are good and compassionate people but don't explore those issues because of their religion -- that's who he's talking about.

I will add that I recognize that religion can be a motivating force for good as well as bad, but the fact remains that religious (believing in the supernatural) people are fundamentally unwilling to look at life honestly and that's a dangerous thing, even if they happen to stumble upon some good conclusions.
posted by callmejay at 8:43 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


For what it's worth, I'd venture to guess that while your description doesn't strike me as a classic liberal theology position, it's closer to that than to traditional theological conservatism, for its willingness to put personal experience above received/revealed wisdom if for no other reason.

I thought he said the exact opposite of that-- that he's moving away from the Reformed/Evangelical tendency towards personalized individualistic theology (the extreme form of which is that awful Evangelical Jesus Is My Boyfriend kind of thing) and is moving towards a theology informed by tradition, which he defines as 'the collective wisdom and experience of the whole Church through the ages, especially as she has come to listen to an ever-growing and more-diverse body of believers, beginning with a few Galilean peasants and growing to encompass the testimony of Gentiles, barbarians, women, blacks, gays.'
posted by shakespeherian at 8:44 AM on December 14, 2010


Simply by being a Christian (who believes in the supernatural) they have demonstrated a willingness to not question something that is to me obviously untrue.

You have no idea whether they have questioned it or not. All that you know is that they have come to a different conclusion to you. They could just as easily say that you had demonstrated a willingness to not question materialism, something that to them is obviously untrue. This kind of closed-minded thinking doesn't help anyone.
posted by unSane at 8:45 AM on December 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


So you're following an intellectual path based on suspicion, conjecture, prejudice, and unconfirmed beliefs.

All I said is I can't help suspecting something and your point is that my suspicion is based on suspicion? Excellent point! ;-)
posted by callmejay at 8:46 AM on December 14, 2010


But for good people to do evil -- that takes religion.

Atrocities require good intentions + ideology. Religion is sufficient but not necessary.
posted by unSane at 8:47 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil. But for good people to do evil -- that takes religion.

Yeah, this is exactly the sort of thing I am talking about. It's demonstrably untrue -- the Milgram experiment is an example of this. No religion at all, and yet presumably decent people were perfectly willing to torture strangers.

I'm sorry, but as an atheist, I find this just contemptible. We make such a fuss out of disabusing ourselves of the nonsense of religion, only to replace it with whatever nonsense happens to support our own belief system, regardless of if it lives up to the high standard of proof we demand of the religious.

I have a suggestion: How about we stop caring about what other people think and judge them based on their behavior. Is that at all possible? Or are we to continue to make the case that our allies in justice must be some sort of deep-cover spy for evil because they happen to believe in something we think is hooey?
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:48 AM on December 14, 2010 [18 favorites]


All I said is I can't help suspecting something and your point is that my suspicion is based on suspicion?

Yes. If you can't understand why that's not science, perhaps you might steer clear of discussions of religion.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:49 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The traditional Gospel message is not one of rugged individualism or collective responsibility, but about man's sin and God's plan for the salvation of souls.

Thanks for that, valkyryn. Can't say I've spent much time around churches in the past three decades or so, but the Christian education I got in the first 15 years of my life was pretty much in line with what you say here.

Nobody was telling me how to vote, just making sure I had The Story straight.
posted by philip-random at 8:49 AM on December 14, 2010


You have no idea whether they have questioned it or not. All that you know is that they have come to a different conclusion to you.

Not all beliefs are equally valid. I'm comfortable assuming that someone who believes a man who was the son of God was killed and returned to Earth three days later either did not question it honestly or is not rational. Just as I'm sure you'd assume that regarding astrology or werewolves or any supernatural beliefs you don't give a pass to.
posted by callmejay at 8:49 AM on December 14, 2010


Yeah, this is exactly the sort of thing I am talking about. It's demonstrably untrue -- the Milgram experiment is an example of this. No religion at all, and yet presumably decent people were perfectly willing to torture strangers.

Okay that's a good point. I did admit that the quote was an exaggeration, but I probably didn't go far enough. Obviously, atheists -- even normally "good" ones -- are quite capable of evil as well. Still, that doesn't mean that religion isn't a factor in a lot of issues.

Yes. If you can't understand why that's not science, perhaps you might steer clear of discussions of religion.

This one, not. I don't even know what you're talking about. When did I mention science? I said I had a suspicion, not a scientific theory.
posted by callmejay at 8:52 AM on December 14, 2010


The problem with your position is that it characterizes those you disagree with as insane or dishonest, where a simple 'wrong' would do. If you don't see why that's problematic, you either have not questioned your approach honestly, or you are not rational. It's that obvious.

See what I did there?
posted by unSane at 8:54 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I said I had a suspicion, not a scientific theory.

You seem to be missing my point: You voiced something you suspect to be true without evidence. Aside from the fact that this is simply an expression of prejudice, and does not make for an honest or fair discussion, you're entering a discussion of facts with n unproven belief. As an atheist, I hold you to a higher standard, as this is the exact standard you are using to dismiss the religious.

In other words, if you're going to dismiss an entire population's motives in the public sphere, sometimes people are going to ask you to back up your points. And if you come out with "Well, it's just something I suspect," you're poisoning the discussion with conjecture, guesswork, unsupported beliefs, and prejudice, which is precisely what we accuse the religious of doing.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:56 AM on December 14, 2010


That kind of reinforces my point, which is that atheists are more prone to questioning everything, while Christians -- even liberal ones -- are less so. Simply by being a Christian (who believes in the supernatural) they have demonstrated a willingness to not question something that is to me obviously untrue.

Well, yes -- atheism/agnosticism is and has been a minority position across most places and times, and therefore people who are atheist/agnostic have generally been people who were willing to question widespread societal norms, and who ended up rejecting those norms of belief.

It does not follow that no-one in the supernaturalist camp has not also questioned their beliefs, and found them not wanting. The Christian explanation of the existence of the universe and of consciousness (God made it), and the Christian understanding of the deep nature of the universe and the place of love and self-sacrifice and community in the building of a just and sustainable world seem to me to be true.

I realise this will probably not be a satisfactory answer to you. Your answers would probably not be satisfactory to me. That is why we are not on the same side of this issue.
posted by tivalasvegas at 8:56 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, I see what you did there. I understand that simply declaring that someone must be insane or dishonest to believe X doesn't prove that someone must be insane or dishonest. I wasn't trying to prove it, I was just explaining my opinion. However, the claim that Jesus came back from the dead is not equivalent to the claim that people who believe the former claim have either not approached it honestly or are not rational. The latter is supportable by the observation that if one were to approach it honestly, one would have to recognize that people don't come back from the dead after a few days, empirically speaking, nor is there any plausible mechanism (other than magic!) which they could.

Do you not, like me, assume that people who believe in magic despite being educated are irrational, at least when we're not talking about religion?
posted by callmejay at 9:00 AM on December 14, 2010


but the fact remains that religious (believing in the supernatural) people are fundamentally unwilling to look at life honestly and that's a dangerous thing, even if they happen to stumble upon some good conclusions.

callmejay, you make the assumption here that there is no "supernatural", and follow with the assertion that to believe in such is dishonest. I wonder where you're getting your certainty from.
posted by philip-random at 9:00 AM on December 14, 2010


Just because no one else seems to have done it yet, here's a link to Slacktivist, an excellent blog by a liberal who's also an evangelical Christian. Be sure to read his ongoing chapter-by-chapter coverage of the Left Behind series, or as the Slacktivist calls them, "World's Worst Books."
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:02 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem, callmejay, is that you assume all religious people believe the Bible literally. They do not. I've worked in social justice organizations most of my life, and worked with a lot of churchgoers who came into social justice through their church, and who read the Bible as metaphor.

The problem is also that, because you are an atheist, you think that makes you some sort of expert on the nonsense that is religion, without bothering to do any actual research, or talk to anybody, or find out what they actually think. That never, ever makes for an informed discussion, and gives us atheists a terrible reputation as uneducated, dismissive assholes. Which is often deserved.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:03 AM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


You seem to be missing my point: You voiced something you suspect to be true without evidence.

Agreed.

Aside from the fact that this is simply an expression of prejudice,

Prejudice is judging BEFORE looking at the facts. I'm judging after.

and does not make for an honest or fair discussion,

I'm being 100% honest and trying to be as fair as possible.

you're entering a discussion of facts with n unproven belief. As an atheist, I hold you to a higher standard, as this is the exact standard you are using to dismiss the religious.

It's almost impossible to have "proven beliefs" in this kind of discussion. This isn't mathematics, it's amateur sociology/psychology.

In other words, if you're going to dismiss an entire population's motives in the public sphere, sometimes people are going to ask you to back up your points. And if you come out with "Well, it's just something I suspect," you're poisoning the discussion with conjecture, guesswork, unsupported beliefs, and prejudice, which is precisely what we accuse the religious of doing.

I'm trying to back them up now. But I think the point that I admitted from the front that this is a suspicion and not a proven conclusion should render your accusations irrelevant.
posted by callmejay at 9:03 AM on December 14, 2010


It also means we endlessly derail threads like this, demanding that the actual subject of the thread is whether Christians are idiots or not. And that's poor Web behavior, and I wish it would stop.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:05 AM on December 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


Well, yes -- atheism/agnosticism is and has been a minority position across most places and times, and therefore people who are atheist/agnostic have generally been people who were willing to question widespread societal norms, and who ended up rejecting those norms of belief.


In fact, in the UK when I was a teenager, atheism/agnosticism was very much the norm and part of my brief excursion into Christianity was *exactly* to do with questioning societal norms and rejecting those norms of belief.

It's simply not true to dismiss religious people as less questioning or more dishonest or irrational.

Like I say, I think they're wrong, but at least that leaves space for a discussion.
posted by unSane at 9:05 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem, callmejay, is that you assume all religious people believe the Bible literally.

WTF? No I don't. I explicitly said that I'm talking only about religious people who believe in the supernatural. Biblical literalism is not necessary.
posted by callmejay at 9:07 AM on December 14, 2010


But I think the point that I admitted from the front that this is a suspicion and not a proven conclusion should render your accusations irrelevant.

I am curious, since you admit that your comment is based on suspicion rather than any information, why you think it was necessary in this thread? Or perhaps you can't see how it would be insulting to a lot of MeFites and orthogonal to the actual discussion.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:08 AM on December 14, 2010


Do you not, like me, assume that people who believe in magic despite being educated are irrational, at least when we're not talking about religion?

No. I just think they're wrong.
posted by unSane at 9:09 AM on December 14, 2010


Not all beliefs are equally valid. I'm comfortable assuming that someone who believes a man who was the son of God was killed and returned to Earth three days later either did not question it honestly or is not rational.

Speaking as an athiest who grew up in a religious household, attended Catholic schools from k-12, I find this comment to be way off the mark. Reconciling these beliefs with the world around us is a monumental task. Those who devote themselves to religion are constantly questioning what they believe, why they believe it, and what it really means. Some find answers, and some don't. I didn't. But I'm sick of this, "Christians automatically believe everything they're told" attitude.
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:11 AM on December 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


I explicitly said that I'm talking only about religious people who believe in the supernatural.

It's the atheist's version of "No True Scotsman." You have not defined your terms. Almost all religious people believe in the supernatural way in some form or another, depending on how broadly you wish to define it. Even those who don't take the Bible literally.

The trouble is that there's believing that God made the world in seven days -- which is demonstratably untrue -- or believing that there is a loving consciousness out there, or some sort of interconnectedness, or some logic to the universe that people call God. Unprovable, and we atheists reject it, because it's unprovable. But it hasn't, and cannot, be disproven either, and it is possible for reasonable people to make a leap of faith without being lunatics. And you don't seem to argue that sort of nuance.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:12 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Okay there are getting to be too many comments for me to respond individually, so let me address some general points:

Astro Zombie, you are continually mischaracterizing my position, so please stop. I never called anybody an idiot, to address your latest.

On the point of my "assumption" that the supernatural is false, well, kind of. I've been trying to analogize the supernatural to "magic" and point out that many people willing to give the former a pass agree with me on the latter. I see no reason to create that distinction, as one person's supernatural is another's magic. Materialism is an assumption in the strictest sense of the word, but I think it's the inescapable consequence of rational empiricism. I'm not saying that those who believe in the supernatural are "idiots" or even unintelligent. I'm just saying they're not rational empiricists. And I am WARY of religious liberals in a way I'm not wary of rationalist empiricist liberals because I SUSPECT (based on demonstrated behavior) that they could believe just about anything and so cannot be counted on to come to rational, empirical conclusions on new issues.
posted by callmejay at 9:14 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, again, why do you think this is a discussion that must be had in this thread? Is it possible to discuss religious people's political behavior without making an atheism 101 argument about why they believe in magic? Or must it be made, every single time the subject of religion comes up, whether it's a derail or not?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:15 AM on December 14, 2010


TrialByMedia, when will you just learn to take it on faith that Christians are always wrong about everything. The whole lot should just go to hell.
posted by Mister_A at 9:16 AM on December 14, 2010


Can the callmejay derail go elsewhere?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:16 AM on December 14, 2010


I never called anybody an idiot

You said that people who believe in the Resurrection are either dishonest or insane. You also said that an educated person who believes in magic is irrational.
posted by unSane at 9:17 AM on December 14, 2010


So it's great that they're liberal, but we can't really count on them to be sensible on arbitrary issues because their beliefs, like their conservative counterparts', are really just a collection of prejudices and conclusions based on false assumptions.

It's not even noon, and this wins the award as the most patently ridiculous thing I've read all day. First of all humans in general are prone to illogical, superstitious, prejudicial thinking. We invented religion. We had to. It's how we think. Religious or not, we're obsessed with ourselves, bad at math*, and amazed by coincidences. As long as we have an incomplete understanding of the natural world, we'll believe in magic. I don't know a single person, religious or otherwise who doesn't hold at least one fundamental belief that is for all intents and purposes complete and utter magical bullshit.

but most importantly, you might need to get out and meet more people. Have real conversations with people about the things they believe and how it informs their lives. I was not raised in a religious family, and don't practice any religion as an adult, but I have learned so many good things about life from people of faith. As much bad in the world that has been done in the name of religion, I have seen that much good and beauty and justice in the lives of people who follow the "supernatural superstitions" people here seem to so easily mock. Religion is neither good or bad. It's just a thing that we have. Like every other thing humans encounter, from trees to knowledge, some will use it as a tool, and others will use it as a weapon. None of us are above that.

*yes, I know, some of us are very good at math. What I mean is the seeming human inability to properly multiply their existence realistically. People are always getting wrong how much or how little they matter in the grand scheme of things. For the most part we're easily manipulated by those who are slightly better at that sort of math.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:22 AM on December 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


I am curious, since you admit that your comment is based on suspicion rather than any information, why you think it was necessary in this thread? Or perhaps you can't see how it would be insulting to a lot of MeFites and orthogonal to the actual discussion.

As I said, it's hard to prove anything, so suspicions are all I can offer. I think my contribution is relevant (I can't go so far as necessary, but that's a high bar) to this thread because my POV on the matter seems directly on point to the post.

Speaking as an athiest who grew up in a religious household, attended Catholic schools from k-12, I find this comment to be way off the mark. Reconciling these beliefs with the world around us is a monumental task.

I too grew up in a religious household and I attended Orthodox Jewish schools from k-beyond 12. I am familiar with and have personally engaged in the "monumental task" of reconciling religious, supernatural beliefs with empirical reality. It is from that experience as well as my discussions with many religious people that I have reached the conclusion/suspicion that this reconciliation is not rational/empirical but more like rationalization/denial. If there is a way to believe those things from a rational/empirical perspective, I'm not aware of it, and I've been around the subject long enough to SUSPECT that it's not possible.

But I'm sick of this, "Christians automatically believe everything they're told" attitude.

That's a bit of a mischaracterization. I'm not saying they automatically believe but that they've demonstrated a propensity to believe things which are not rational/empirical.

It's the atheist's version of "No True Scotsman." You have not defined your terms. Almost all religious people believe in the supernatural way in some form or another, depending on how broadly you wish to define it. Even those who don't take the Bible literally.

I DID define my terms. I explicitly set them out as "religious people who believe in the supernatural" excepting those who are "essentially deists," since that's a little more defensible empirically than say, the resurrection. That's four or five times now you've mischaracterized what I wrote. Am I being unclear or are you seeing what you're expecting to see instead of what's there?

All, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to derail. I thought my initial comments were relevant and on point and since then I've been responding to responses. I'll bow out for now and reserve the right to add one or two more comments later in the day. Carry on.
posted by callmejay at 9:24 AM on December 14, 2010


Well, since we're back on topic, I'll say that without Southern Baptists, Unitarian Universalists, and the Society of Friends, based on my experience we would now be living in a Hobbesian American dystopia where the poor are fed to each other and the rich pick their teeth with the bones.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:30 AM on December 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


Well, since we're back on topic, I'll say that without Southern Baptists, Unitarian Universalists, and the Society of Friends, based on my experience we would now be living in a Hobbesian American dystopia where the poor are fed to each other and the rich pick their teeth with the bones.

I would say amen to that, but all the rich people I see seem to have very clean teeth these days.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:33 AM on December 14, 2010


If there is a way to believe those things from a rational/empirical perspective, I'm not aware of it, and I've been around the subject long enough to SUSPECT that it's not possible.

I recommend a combination of strong LSD and nitros oxide after which you will likely suspect that EVERYTHING is possible ... except being able to put what you've experienced/witnessed into words. This becomes not a failure of experience, comprehension, intellect or consciousness, merely of language.
posted by philip-random at 9:36 AM on December 14, 2010


... and my teeth aren't that clean. Does this make me rational or irrational?
posted by philip-random at 9:37 AM on December 14, 2010


No, just poor I think.
posted by unSane at 9:39 AM on December 14, 2010


*buys floss for everyone so they can have something to do with their hands and mouths rather than make weird generalizations and false dichotomies about what religious people are capable thinking about*
posted by Burhanistan at 9:41 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it's because we're both members of the Undead-American community, and inclined to consume tasty liberal brains, but I'm with Astro Zombie on this.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:42 AM on December 14, 2010


i'm cool with atheists, as long as they don't go trying to shove their beliefs down my throat all the time.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:59 AM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


In a thread about left wing Christians, is this really the first mention of the United Church of Christ? Or: United Communists for Christ? tee hee
posted by NoMich at 9:59 AM on December 14, 2010


In a thread about left wing Christians, is this really the first mention of the United Church of Christ?

Nope.
posted by valkyryn at 10:24 AM on December 14, 2010


Oop, I see it now. Sorry about that.
posted by NoMich at 10:28 AM on December 14, 2010


Previously on MeFi:

Blogger J. Brad Hicks breaks down how, in the mid-1960s, the Republican party made a conscious decision to rebrand themselves as the party of Christians, and in doing so, how they had to shift the ideology of the churches to what he calls a "false gospel".
posted by joshwa at 10:30 AM on December 14, 2010


Might I suggest you consider paring back on the snark, because here it reads as contempt, and decidedly assholish.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:25 AM on December 14


Well, that's why I admitted to the snark in the first place, and tried to provide a bit of context for my comment. Might I suggest to you that calling someone an asshole after they have already admitted to behavior-that-could-be-read-as-assholish is piling on.

Wow. So are you contemptuous of other groups whose motivation for political ideals might not be as pure as yours either?

What do you consider a valid source of guiding principles for political or social action? It seems awfully arrogant to assume that your own mental reasoning provides a more pure and justified motivation for your political beliefs and that left-wing Christians are slavishly reading instructions out of a book and acting on them.

I apologize to anyone who might have interpreted my points as assholish, contemptuous, or arrogant. That was not my intent, and I probably shouldn't have gone for the low-hanging fruit of the easy snark on my first comment. So I'll try to restate my opinion on the matter one more time.

I don't think that my own motivations are more "pure" than a Christian's or anyone else's. But I do reserve the right to think that others' justifications are wrong-headed. For example, I think that many absolutely strict utilitarian arguments are absolutely wrong-headed, and I don't think its arrogant or assholish to say so (in a non-snarky way). I also think that, in the United States, there is a (hotly-debated but still recognizable) separation between church and state. Its an oversimplification, but this means - among other things - that we will not base our policies upon the argument that the bible says it is right. We do not live in a theocracy, we live in a democracy in which multiple points of view can be debated openly.

My only point is that the fact that some people find biblical support for just policies does not change this fact. I'm not fond of the argument that we should promote anti-gay policies because some people find biblical support for them; just as I wouldn't be fond of the argument that we should promote anti-gay policies because it would be cost-effective to do so. But, by the same token, I wouldn't be fond of the argument that we should promote social justice because it is cost-effective; and I am not fond of the argument that we should promote social justice because it is written in the bible.

So, I admit that I could have said it better originally, but I will stick by the spirit of my basic point: I prefer some forms of argument over others, in part because those others lend themselves better to unjust conclusions. And I don't think its contemptuous or arrogant to say so.
posted by googly at 10:52 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, I admit that I could have said it better originally, but I will stick by the spirit of my basic point: I prefer some forms of argument over others, in part because those others lend themselves better to unjust conclusions. And I don't think its contemptuous or arrogant to say so.

Please don't lend the arrogant-atheist argument any more respect than it deserves.

A quick glance at any thread about libertarianism, utilitarianism, capitalism/marxism, or authoritarianism/anti-authoritarianism will reveal that most people on mefi have lines of argument they don't wish to entertain; the only "problem" with your post is that you said yours was religion.
posted by vorfeed at 11:30 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good forms of argument are completely uninteresting in comparison with good work. I'm in the group that doesn't too much care if you believe in a beardy sky man as long as you're a humane and conscientious person in general, and about your belief. Thing is: righteousness isn't self-bestowed.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:45 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I went to a Jesuit university, where they were all about social responsibility and justice. I was baptized by a Salesian priest, a family friend, who got exiled to a tiny parish in rural ecuador because of his social justice agitation in central Mexico. My mother was a teacher in a Franciscan monastery, and was caught in the middle of a power struggle between the status-quo loving monks and the social justice activist monks.

I talked extensively with this "left wing" christians. Catholics and mostly theologians to be precise. Not a single one of them believed in a literal bible, in an interventionist god or in the divinity of Jesus. Most of the Jesuits at my school did not believe in any kind of supernatural god.

What they did believe in is that Christian values form a very good moral compass that can guide society to justice and equality. They exercised a very literal WWJD. Not a "what would a vengeful old testament god would do" but a "what would a compassionate Jesus willing to die for your sins would do".

What I am getting at, is that the most Christian Christians I know are a bunch of commie atheists that think the bible is mostly bullshit.
posted by Dr. Curare at 12:10 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I am getting at, is that the most Christian Christians I know are a bunch of commie atheists that think the bible is mostly bullshit.

Again, it's no surprise that theological liberals are politically liberal too. But that's not a terribly interesting observation, and not what the original link is about.
posted by valkyryn at 12:58 PM on December 14, 2010


valkyryn: These theological liberals do consider themselves christian. Very fucking christian indeed. You are comfortable maintaining that if you don't believe in God, than whatever you are, you aren't a Christian.

What are they then?
posted by Dr. Curare at 1:17 PM on December 14, 2010


Reminds me of a great passage from Terry Pratchett, which is seasonally appropriate because it's from Hogfather. Susan in conversation with Death:
“All right’, said Susan ‘You’re saying humans need…fantasies to make life
bearable”.
REALLY? AS IF WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little-”
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING HOW TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
“So we can believe the big ones?”
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
“They’re not the same at all!”
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET- Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME, SOME…RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point-”
MY POINT EXACTLY.
But we should distinguish between knowledge and belief. A religious fundamentalist doesn't believe, she knows. True belief (in justice, mercy, etc.) is groundless, a decision taken in the absence of evidence. Properly, it's an act of faith. What religious fundamentalists lack is faith.
posted by AlsoMike at 2:47 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sigh. This thread is exactly why the 'Christian Right' was able to redefine the meaning of the word Christian and shape American politics and culture to its own ends without any oppposition. The other side, even though they fundamentally agree on the core issues and what needs to be done, are too busy fighting over percieved insults and quibbling over details of purely academic importance.

All that evil needs to triumph is to get good in a room and then ask them what they all want on their pizza. Then walk away laughing as the heated arguments over equable distribution of theoretical toppings and ethical non-exploitative ingredient sourcing cause them all to starve to death; or the most effective members give up and go across the hall where the opposition just order pepperoni and then move on to the important work of world domination. Sigh.
posted by bartleby at 3:11 PM on December 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


What are they then?

They're welcome to call themselves whatever they want, but they aren't "Christians" by any historical understanding of the word, any use of the word that has any meaning whatsoever. Certainly not in a way that their own church would recognize. Not even by the standards of most theological liberals either, who even if they do get all metaphorical still generally believe in the supernatural existence of God in some sense.

It's possible to be a liberal Christian and still be a Christian, but you can't be an atheist and be a Christian. It's simply a contradiction in terms.

You want to call me intolerant or whatever, you do that. I'm willing to die on that hill, but I consider it to be so self-evident a proposition that there's really no point in defending it. This has already been done to death, and I'm not really interested in taking it any further, and I highly doubt you're going to find all that many people, even amongst MeFites, who will take your part in that argument.
posted by valkyryn at 3:32 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm with valkyryn. Much as I'm sure there are at least three red meat lovers out there who, by some weird definition or other, call themselves vegans, I can imagine there are atheists who consider themselves Christian. But it doesn't mean they're right. By which I mean, they're not adhering to anything remotely close to an agreed upon definition of the words they are using.

Another example: I'm a pacifist but I do believe in killing people when necessary.

You can say this. You can even believe it. But it's still completely absurd.
posted by philip-random at 3:54 PM on December 14, 2010


I explicitly said that I'm talking only about religious people who believe in the supernatural.

callmejay, I'm confused -- how can there be a religious person who DOESN'T "believe in the supernatural"? Can you clarify what you mean by this?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:58 PM on December 14, 2010


So, I admit that I could have said it better originally, but I will stick by the spirit of my basic point: I prefer some forms of argument over others, in part because those others lend themselves better to unjust conclusions. And I don't think its contemptuous or arrogant to say so.

The counterpoint, i think, would just be that "because it's in the bible" isn't the only way in which religious people defend their beliefs. Non-religious people could use "because it's the law" as an equivalently non-thoughtful answer. But both sorts of people can have other bases for figuring out what's right - religious people can turn to things like "WWJD", or what they expect an all-loving being would want of them, for instance. They can turn to reason by saying that god endowed them with reason... There are just as many ways for a religious person to ground their moral beliefs. Some people (religious or not) give it thought and others just follow whatever cultural norms they grew up with.
posted by mdn at 4:06 PM on December 14, 2010


Seriously, you guys need to read some vaguely modern theology. You have a straw man in your head which equates Christian with believing in Mr Deity. But there is a massive amount of theology out there which struggles exactly with the whole concept of the divine and whether it really exists as anything separate from humankind. Plenty of it is Christian.

There are certainly atheistic Christians. Some of them a priests in the Church of England. I've met them. One was even Bishop of Woolwich and wrote a very very famous 1963 book -- Honest to God -- about the whole subject.
posted by unSane at 4:20 PM on December 14, 2010


Seriously, unSane, you need to know more about what you're talking about before you start criticizing others.

I'm familiar with Robinson, but here's the thing: Honest to God doesn't actually seem to espouse atheism! It's certainly a radical re-imagining of what "God" is and what "God" means, but there's a difference between saying "We should think about God like this instead of like that," and saying "There is no God."

The former makes you a liberal Christian, but not an atheist. The latter makes you an atheist and no Christian at all.

"Atheist" and "Christian" are contradictions in terms.
posted by valkyryn at 4:42 PM on December 14, 2010


Honest to God argues that our concept of God refers to the 'ground of being'. Robinson absolutely says that there is no God external to ourselves. It caused a massive scandal -- on the scale of LADY CHATTERLEY -- when it was published, for exactly this reason.

It is not agnostic, and it is not liberal Christianity. Robinson did not believe in an external God or the divinity of Christ in any sense that was different from ordinary people being divine.

Just because he didn't come out swinging like Hitchens doesn't mean that the book isn't a radically atheistic statement. Robinson wants to define God as something which is not supernatural.

I know this because I've read it, as opposed to Wikipedia.

You are into No True Scotsman territory if you define Christian as theistic and then use that to argue that no Christian can be atheist.
posted by unSane at 4:52 PM on December 14, 2010


For a more contemporary, much less rigorous, counter-example, check out this book and this site, both of which self-identify as both Christian and atheist.

Of course, they will fail your No-True-Christian test but they show that is clearly possible to call yourself a Christian, attempting to follow Christ and live by his teachings, and simultaneously reject the notion of God. I don't know what else you could really ask for.
posted by unSane at 5:22 PM on December 14, 2010


unSane, I think I understand the premise of "Christianity Without God", but I have to confess that it makes no sense to me. The record we have of Jesus is the Gospel record, and in the Gospels, Jesus is very clear that he believes in and worships God and that he has come to teach us about God. All his teaching is rooted in faith, and Christian Testament scholars tell us that many of Jesus's teachings show that he had studied with other rabbis of the time. Yes, Jesus was different; he was a rabbi that reached out to the lowly and scorned in society, rather than associating only with "righteous" people. But he did this because of his beliefs about God. If there is no God, what's the point of following Jesus?
posted by epj at 5:42 PM on December 14, 2010


Seriously, unSane, you need to know more about what you're talking about before you start criticizing others.

valkyryn, I appreciate that you're very knowledgeable in certain matters w/r/t Christianity, but an awful lot of these threads that deal with competing strains of Christian theology seem to bring out the Thread Police in you.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:57 PM on December 14, 2010


If there is no God, what's the point of following Jesus?

I haven't read Robinson's book but, for example, a fairly common reading of the gnostic gospels is that Jesus was the messiah because he came to teach us about the divinity within ourselves.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:59 PM on December 14, 2010


Read Tillich, Bultmann, Niebuhr and Robinson. Bultmann in particular is all about 'demythologizing' the gospels and trying discover what the core teachings of Christ absent the woo would be.
posted by unSane at 6:02 PM on December 14, 2010


I have to confess that it makes no sense to me

So go read the book instead of the Wikipedia article.
posted by unSane at 6:04 PM on December 14, 2010


So go read the book instead of the Wikipedia article.

I plan to, but as I don't already own it, I can't read it this evening. I was interested in what you had to say and thought perhaps you knew if non-theistic Christians had a common explanation for "Why Jesus?". My apologies if I misread your participation in this thread.
posted by epj at 6:17 PM on December 14, 2010


I wonder if the rise of this American 'Christian Left' has any foundations or connections to the Liberation Theology of Latin America, either directly through immigration, or indirectly, as an American echo of those earlier injustices elsewhere. Or, for that matter, if the suppression of Liberation Theology was an extension of Cold War ideology, which now relaxed or redirected, would allow for this 'Christian Left' to surface in the United States in a way which was not possible previously.

I'd be interested to know more about those connections, if they exist.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:04 PM on December 14, 2010


This seems as good a time as any to give a shout out to one of my favorite bloggers, Slacktivist. It's written by a progressive Christian, and his weekly takedown of the Left Behind series is epic. I'm not religious myself but I appriciate that there are folks like him out there.

I think "all religion everywhere at all times in all of history is bad" is the wrong tack to take. I don't believe in God but I do believe in stories. And good stories like good religion don't tell you want to think, they can help you walk and think through your fears and problems, but ultimately, you're going to have to come to the conclusion about what it all means or what do yourself. So instead of trying to discourage religious belief, find where religious belief is good and encourage that. By which I mean I think there's a place for the religious left and atheists and agnostics to work together on social justice issues like improving education and feeding the hungry.

I'm also heartened to see increased Christian support for gay rights. No, it's not anywhere near where it needs to be but it's a start. And it shouldn't be rejected with "You believe in a Sky Fairy? How dumb." It should be welcomed, "You believe in God and gay rights? Cool, come picket with us at City Hall." I'll stop now before I slip into complete Mr. Rogers we're more alike than different platitudes, but we are. Mr. Rogers believed in God, I don't but I believe in Mr. Rogers and that helps me be a better person. And any faith that counts Johnny Cash and Mr. Rogers among its members ain't all bathwater either.
posted by Ruby Stevens at 7:20 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


> And it shouldn't be rejected with "You believe in a Sky Fairy? How dumb."

Not to worry. Those people do little more than get drunk and moan and are clearly part of the problem. Those who organize and try to make a difference are rarely so dismissive.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:22 PM on December 14, 2010


Let's just give up, concerned atheists. We're never going to be able to take down religion. Instead let's try interpreting religious scripture in a manner which supports our beliefs and disseminating these interpretations just like everyone else does in the rest of the world. Religion can be useful!
posted by tehloki at 7:23 PM on December 14, 2010


Hang on a second:

Yes, Jesus was different; he was a rabbi that reached out to the lowly and scorned in society, rather than associating only with "righteous" people. But he did this because of his beliefs about God. If there is no God, what's the point of following Jesus?

...If you believe that the ideas Jesus espoused are good and beneficial ones, then why can't that be a "point of following Jesus" in and of itself?

You say Jesus did whe He did because of His beliefs about God. Is it not possible someone could say, "okay, I'm not so sure I buy Jesus' beliefs about God, but the stuff Jesus is talking about is good stuff regardless of whether He got it from God, Buddha, His own imagination, or that guy Sid that He got drunk with last Tuesday -- and a good idea is a good idea, so I'll go along with Jesus' good ideas

This is actually pretty much what Thomas Jefferson did, strangely; Jefferson didn't believe in Jesus' divinity, but DID follow Jesus' teachings. Jefferson went so far as to edit his own personal version of a Bible, cutting out all reference to the possible Divinity of Jesus. In Jefferson's mind, Jesus was just a man, but a man with good ideas. As far as the SOURCE of those ideas, Jefferson disagreed about where they came from, but didn't think that mattered as much, because for him the "point" of following Jesus was WHAT Jesus said, instead of why He said it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:30 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow. I'm devoutly agnostic and this thread is depressing me. I know plenty of liberal Christians who are deeply devoted to social justice -- too bad they don't bring enough crazy to the table to be noticed by the very-deep-thinking atheists.
posted by desuetude at 9:54 PM on December 14, 2010


I wonder if the rise of this American 'Christian Left' has any foundations or connections to the Liberation Theology of Latin America, either directly through immigration, or indirectly, as an American echo of those earlier injustices elsewhere. Or, for that matter, if the suppression of Liberation Theology was an extension of Cold War ideology, which now relaxed or redirected, would allow for this 'Christian Left' to surface in the United States in a way which was not possible previously.

I'd be interested to know more about those connections, if they exist.
posted by Capt. Renault 8 hours ago [+]


In terms of the US "Christian left" supporting liberation theology movements, and the realpolitik involved, you could do worse than have a look at Maryknoll (note the martyrs), Orbis Books, Fr. Roy Bourgeois and SOA Watch, as mentioned above. Whether things are now flowing back the other way, I don't know.

(Sorry for the lazy linking, I need a nap.)
posted by Ahab at 3:58 AM on December 15, 2010


Empress, this is obviously a great question because I'm having trouble forming my thoughts into a response. I think it's great that any person would show concern for the rejected and scorned, whether they're motivated by a belief in God or not. My question, "Why Jesus?" remains, though. Why not declare yourself a follower of Dorothy Day, Dr. King, Jane Addams, or any number of other people who have lived out "love your neighbor as yourself"?

I have to admit my bias here--I am a Christian, and it bothers me that some people call themselves "Christians" and yet handwave away the first commandment Jesus taught: "Love the Lord your God". I don't have a problem with any person being inspired by the teachings of Jesus, as with Thomas Jefferson, but I am stuck on the problem of people calling themselves "Christians" while being atheists.
posted by epj at 5:23 AM on December 15, 2010


My question, "Why Jesus?" remains, though. Why not declare yourself a follower of Dorothy Day, Dr. King, Jane Addams, or any number of other people who have lived out "love your neighbor as yourself"?

Jesus is far enough in the past to have become symbolic (some people don't even believe he ever existed). If you consider yourself a follower of a real person in recent history, you are stuck dealing with their real human failings, and it is weird to put them on too much of a pedestal, no matter how great their accomplishments. Jesus can be a stand-in for the potential of the human spirit.

It's true there's a sense in which it's weird if you do believe he was a regular guy to deify him too much. But I guess if you grew up with it, you might find it more natural. There is already a community based around it, and lots of other people have written about love and goodness through talking about him. So the biographical aspect fades away. In fact I bet some of those atheistic christians could say something like, he's man and god at the same time in that he's man and idea at the same time...
posted by mdn at 6:05 AM on December 15, 2010


Jesus is far enough in the past to have become symbolic (some people don't even believe he ever existed)

Correct me if I'm wrong but I'm pretty sure that there is NO accepted historic evidence that a guy named Jesus Christ ever lived. That is, no historic records from the time etc. Which isn't to say that he is entirely a myth; just that we have no verifiable proof that he wasn't, which is also true of roughly 99.99 percent of the other people who were around in 2000 plus years ago. They just weren't much for keeping records then, particularly the kind that last for 20 centuries.

As for questions of divinity ... according to the Gospels, Christ did walk around telling everyone he was the Son of God. And further, he justified pretty much everything he was doing/saying/commanding on the backbone of heaven existing and as such, our rewards for righteousness would come not here on earth but after death in some kind of afterlife. This tells me that you can't really separate Christ's message from his divinity (certainly from some sort of so-called supernatural reality that underlies the everyday one that most of us find ourselves slogging through). Or as I've heard it put by more than one Christian thinker ... if Christ wasn't the Son of God (or some equivalent) then he was either a deceiving liar or a mad man, and as such NOT to be trusted, let alone followed.
posted by philip-random at 9:37 AM on December 15, 2010


...NO accepted historic evidence that a guy named Jesus Christ ever lived...

I dunno what you mean by 'accepted' or 'historical' here but the historicity of Jesus is pretty well established.

there is mass of written matter about Jesus, not just the gospels but Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius etc

there is no birth certificate, if that's what you mean, but taking the position that he never existed and the entire written record is the result of some kind of, I dunno, fabrication or mass delusion, is as extreme a position as the Birther movement.

The 'God or madman' thing implies however that the gospels and their subsequent interpretation accurately reflect Jesus' life and thinking which is a big if.

In the Gospels Christ never explicitly claims to be the son of God. The phrase he uses is 'Son of Man', and he refers to God as 'father', as many Christians do today. "Our father...". So the whole question of Christ's divinity is one which the historical Jesus is strangely ambiguous about.
posted by unSane at 9:46 AM on December 15, 2010


there is no birth certificate, if that's what you mean, but taking the position that he never existed and the entire written record is the result of some kind of, I dunno, fabrication or mass delusion, is as extreme a position as the Birther movement.

Sorry, can't let this stand. I submit there's a hell of a lot more evidence of Obama's Americaness than Christ's existence. You mention Tacitus, Pliny and Suetonius above. Near as I can tell (thank you wikipedia), both Tacitus and Suetonius were born after Christ's death and Pliny would've been about 9 years old when he died. That they get mentioned at all with reference to Christ is that all three make passing mention to Christians in their writings, but none of them even remotely dwell on the topic.

As for the divinity thing, that's not really an argument I'm interested in pursuing except to reiterate my feeling that Jesus' teachings don't really add up unless there's some kind of "supernatural" underpinning to existence. That is, if the atheists are correct and basic existence is all we've got ("no hell below us, above us only sky"), then I don't see much wisdom in following the teachings of a man who pretty much insists otherwise, whose whole argument is based upon heaven being real.
posted by philip-random at 12:18 PM on December 15, 2010


If you want to believe that JC never existed, that's your prerogative, PR, but argumentum ad Wikipedia is not really something I'm willing to engage it, nor are your 'feelings'. Goodbye.
posted by unSane at 12:39 PM on December 15, 2010


I don't believe he never existed. I do believe that the historical record doesn't really do much for us either way. This is something I've touched on here before and probably did a better job of presenting then ...

Interestingly, the first person I ever heard put forth this notion was Malcolm Muggeridge, old school, Brit-Roman-Catholic-intellectual type. It was in an old radio lecture where he was responding to the Jesus Christ Superstar question of, why did Jesus come and do his thing way back when, when there was no way to record what he actually did and said, as opposed to now, this time of mass communication where his every word would likely be recorded? Why allow for so much potential confusion?

As I remember it, Muggeridge's response went further than the Jesus Christ Superstar thing. He said, we don't even have proof he existed, certainly nothing that would satisfy a scientist or a historian. All we have is the story told in the Gospels, first passed down by word of mouth, then put to text, then translated any number of times and spread around the world in all manner of strange ways. This, argued Muggeridge, is exactly the way a God would do things.

posted by philip-random at 12:51 PM on December 15, 2010


I think it's great that any person would show concern for the rejected and scorned, whether they're motivated by a belief in God or not. My question, "Why Jesus?" remains, though. Why not declare yourself a follower of Dorothy Day, Dr. King, Jane Addams, or any number of other people who have lived out "love your neighbor as yourself"?

Perhaps the way in which Jesus phrased the message was especially noteworthy to someone, more so than Dorothy Day, Dr. King, etc.. I mean, both Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix did versions of "All Along The Watchtower," but I definitely prefer one guy's version to the other.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:36 PM on December 15, 2010


Jesus claimed a divine calling to do righteous, empathetic work on earth, thereby becoming the first (right, historians?) espouser of that philosophy on record.

Not only does Jane Addams, for example, seem derivative in comparison, her works draw no direct connection between humanism and the highest earthly spiritual fulfillment. Lastly, for those of us raised in christianity (or at least the loosey-goosey non-denom protestant kind of buddy jesus christianity I was), jesus is NOT just the idea of that divine empathetic set of behaviors, but the affect thereof. Jesus IS Love they say over and over. I don't need to buy into any superstition to understand the grip of that. It's a deeply-carved neural groove, and it's only symbolic language, a person coming to wholly symbolize DIVINE HUMANISM... so how can it be objectively wrong?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:23 PM on December 15, 2010


> Or as I've heard it put by more than one Christian thinker ... if Christ wasn't the Son of God (or some equivalent) then he was either a deceiving liar or a mad man, and as such NOT to be trusted, let alone followed.

That's valid for the disciples and followers of the alleged actual Jesus during Jesus's alleged lifetime. But the modern practice of Christianity isn't conducted by leaving behind your family to join the entourage of an itinerant philosopher with a death wish bent on shaking up society.

What's left to trust and follow is this anthology of books inspired by accounts of Jesus's teachings. Y'know, words, questions, conundrums, challenges issued against inherent human clannishness and self-centeredness. That people believe different things about the book and interpret it differently is exactly what has amplified its potential to endure.

You're allowed to be influenced by it if you don't believe that all of the characters existed. Heck, I do it with literature all the time.
posted by desuetude at 8:09 AM on December 16, 2010


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