Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Doublethink of Liberal Theology

"Philosophers stretch the meaning of words until they retain scarcely anything of their original sense; by calling ‘God’ some vague abstraction which they have created for themselves, they pose as deists, as believers, before the world; they may even pride themselves on having attained a higher and purer idea of God, although their God is nothing but an insubstantial shadow and no longer the mighty personality of religious doctrine." 

 Sigmund Freud The Future of Illusion

Many modern, liberal or progressive theologians are accepting of or, more accurately, they are “tolerant” of other religions. Even those religions that are completely theologically unrelated to their own other than the whole supernaturalism thing. I frequently hear the apologetic claim from liberal Christians while discussing the “truth” of religion that all religions could be different expressions of the same god or different paths to the “Truth.” As if myth itself, regardless of the specific myth,  was an acceptable basis for reality. This is a “just-so,” after the fact, ecumenical rationalization by theologians who want a positive relationship with other religions. The goal is commendable, but the theological and rational gymnastics required to establish this, have the tendency to knock the feet out from under the elephant. In other words; in order to preserve this “Interchangeable God” theological structure one has to remove integral blocks in the foundation of their religion. Logically, it doesn’t work.

Christians are coming to terms with aspects of their religion that simply cannot be considered true once the evidence is looked at objectively. I commend them for being reasonable. However this introduces a problem that fundamentalist Christians understand. In the article Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve, it details how Christians are accepting evolutionary evidence that completely refutes the possibility of Adam and Eve as the first humans. In the article, however, is a gem of a quote by a fundamentalist. It reads:

"But if the parts of Scripture that you are claiming to be false, in effect, are responsible for creating the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, then you've got a problem,"

Yes. Yes you do have a problem.

I’m not trying to alienate my friends that adhere to liberal Christian theology, but as much as I think fundamental Christian theology is riddled with plot holes, contradictions, morally vacant teachings, cognitive dissonance and doublethink; the liberal version of the religion has these detractions as well. Why? Once you start admitting that the Biblical stories that were once held as absolute truth are not historical, are instead allegorical, and admit that certain tenets are actually harmful if not immoral; then what do you have to stand on? What is the foundation of the belief? What is the rock? If the Christian belief system is based on scripture; which it is, then once pieces are removed from that scripture by discarding them or changing them to suit modern morals (that evolved away from biblical morals via secular reasoning, thank you), then the basis of your belief system is weakened. It becomes more and more unstable and untenable. I have previously likened this to a Jenga game. The outdated and undesirable blocks are pulled out from the tower, altered or explained away via convoluted rationalizations otherwise known as “theology” and the whole thing starts to sway. Pretty soon it’s going to fall over.

I can hear the apologist line now saying I am throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Well...yeah. When talking about religious scripture it is an all or nothing proposition if you are claiming an ultimate universal truth. If Adam and Eve didn’t exist then where does Original Sin originate? If there is no Original Sin then why did Jesus need to die on the cross? If Jesus didn’t need to die on the cross, then YHWH really is an immoral monster.  It’s a domino effect.

OK, all that aside; how can any Christian not think of the New Testament as true? It is integral. It is the foundation of their entire religion. I mean...c’mon! Again, I understand why liberal/moderate/progressive Christians do and say the things they do. They want to get along with people. Most of them do not deny scientific facts. They advocate for the separation of church and state. They don’t believe in demons or possessions. The Rapture is considered nonsense. Some are vehemently pro-choice and LGBT friendly. I know these people. They exist.

The intellectual dishonesty arises when in any conversation that turns to belief it is perfectly OK to question an atheist or other beliefs, but any question of their religion turns into a circular argument of soft philosophy that can be used to justify anything! There is a readymade excuse for any critique. It’s all allegory. It’s just parables. It’s not meant to be taken literally. All religion could be correct. None of this is defensible and yet none of it is provably wrong. It’s all invisible pink unicorns and teapots in orbit. They have gone in the opposite direction of fundies that hang onto every last word of the Bible as literal truth and ignore obvious contradictory facts. The liberal Christians just make it up as they go along because why not?  

Take the following scriptural texts that demand adherence to their brand and nothing else. They are unequivocal.

The Old Testament
“You shall have no other gods before Me.”  Exodus 20:3
The New Testament
“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,...” 1 Timothy 2:5            
"Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’" John 14:6      
“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Matthew 11:27      
“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Luke 10:22
“This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone,’ and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.”  1 Peter 2:7–8

“Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah. If only the People of the Book had faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors.” Sura Aal-e-Imran 3:110
“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya* with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” Sura At-Taubah 9:29
  *Jizya was/is the tax that was levied on non-Muslim peoples in a pure Islamic state.
“Those who reject (Truth), among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, will be in Hell-Fire, to dwell therein (for aye). They are the worst of creatures.”  Sura Al Bayyina 98:6
“Surely the vilest of animals in Allah's sight are those who disbelieve, then they would not believe.“ Sura Al-Anfal 8:55

The Book of Mormon!
"And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth" 1 Nephi 14:10
"And when the day cometh that the wrath of God is poured out upon the mother of harlots, which is the great and abominable church of all the earth, whose foundation is the devil, then, at that day, the work of the Father shall commence. . ." 1 Nephi. 14:17

And Joseph Smith himself:
"My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right — and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight: that those professors were all corrupt . . ."
       Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 5-6

There are a couple of points I am trying to make here. First, at issue here are not their liberal or moderate values. Those values align with the majority of non-believers and moderates from other religions. This is because their values and morals are not borne from religion or  scripture. Most morals likely pre-date both the secular movement and religion as they may simply be universal morals for social animals such as humans. Others modern values and morals are very much the direct result of the Enlightenment where religion and superstition has been supplanted by reason and scientific method. Second, it’s pretty clear from the various religious texts that the Universal God concept is heresy! Third, why do they hold onto their religion? If you step back and objectively look at the totality of religious belief systems they really don’t make sense. I’m laughing at myself as I type this because it seems so obvious to me, but I guess that is the point. I am not emotionally invested in this worldview any more. I never really was.  I try and be mindful of that with friends and family, but it is hard to ignore the doublethink when it happens right in front of you.

“Maybe God expressed himself differently to different cultures.”

Maybe this. Maybe that. The above scriptural quotes would disagree. Unless they too are only allegory. How much of scripture is allegory? Is it allegory if Jesus “said” that the only way to God is through Him? How much is considered true? Apparently for liberal Christians only what your reason allows you to find palatable with minimum cognitive dissonance. That’s when the doublethink kicks in.

“Jesus said he is the Way and only through him can you know God...., but maybe there are other ways.”

Honestly, I get why they hold onto it. Liberal theology doesn’t seem that bad when you see people like the Westboro Baptist Church protesting whatever God that cult hates today or people denying evolution. I think it is necessary to have a guiding or structured philosophy in life, but never one that is rigid. Never one that requires one to ignore reason when things contradict. Never one that has its central premise based on faith. That is foolish.


Andy said...

Nice post. I especially enjoyed the Jenga metaphor.

Steve said...

Thanks. I've been tinkering with this one for awhile. I had the idea for the Jenga metaphor while writing about liberal theology and it grew into its own post which is linked in this one.

Nick said...

I'm giving a sermon on this on Sunday, oddly enough. More specifically "Tolerance vs. Pluralism".

Steve said...

Nick, can you video tape that? I would love to post your atheist sermon at a UU church. That sounds entertaining.

Nick said...

I doubt I could video tape it, since I don't own a VHS camcorder, but I could probably do a digital voice recording with my Android phone.

Steve said...

Do it.

Nick said...

Way to sidestep my crack at your anachronistic terminology. Are you sure you're not a Creationist?

Steve said...

To be honest it's simply too difficult to determine when you're being an asshole or not.


Karlie Mason said...

A lot of times, people don't want the answer, too, you know? They have this idea that works okay for them. They're wasting time on it. They're not not wasting time on it. They're uninterested in the power it gives to fundamentalists. Thinking isn't a a favorite past time for a lot of people, and sorting out the world for yourself does require a bit of thinking.

A++ for the use of doublethink :)

Nick said...

Always err on the side of asshole.

Christian Salafia said...

Your position that it has to be an all or nothing proposition is a logical fallacy.

Steve said...

It is not my position, but the positions of the various religions. They set up the all or nothing (false dichotomy) position as a tenet of their "faith." This essay examines the liberal Christian tendency to ignore that dichotomy to the detriment of the foundation of their belief. All I point out is the process of cognitive dissonance and resulting doiblethink when one continues to believe without evidence.