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Monday, April 9, 2007

The Christian Schism

The Institute for Progressive Christianity posts an article by Linda Hodges which appeared in CrossLeft's webzine. Now, I am not a Christian (and neither was Christ, for what it's worth), but Ms. Hodges does a great job breaking down how Christianity is seen through the lenses of liberalism and conservatism, and so it is a useful read with plenty of opportunity for thought experiments.
A schism is occurring within every religious faith tradition in this country. Faith communities are splitting along conservative and liberal lines, each claiming to be truest to “the faith” while declaring the other to be anti-Christian and false. In reality both are Christian as both liberal and conservative worldviews can be found in the Bible. Together their stories comprise a written journal of our religious ancestor’s many varied experiences of the sacred. The question becomes, which path do we wish to follow. Which path leads to the kind of life we want to have?

Linda Hodges is fair to both sides of the question (a bit too fair if you ask me) before coming down on the side of liberalism, compassion, progressivity.

I balk at the above quote, however, which poses it as "what kind of life we want to have." I can certainly say that I prefer her reading of Christianity (quoting Marcus Borg):
For Jesus, compassion was more than a quality of God and an individual virtue: it was a social paradigm, the core value for life in community. To put it boldly: compassion for Jesus was political. He directly and repeatedly challenged the dominant sociopolitical paradigm of his social world and advocated instead what might be called a politics of compassion.

But my preference for this is not enough for me. After all, the bedwetters amongst us prefer authoritarianism - for all too obvious emotional reasons - and preference itself is value neutral.

No - I must move beyond my preferences and see what actually makes this human experiment successful. And, as inconvenient developments in our world are displaying with relentless dispassion, it is an experiment. Which means it could fail. So, it is what works that concerns me, and for me what works can only be the truth. The truth, not some human-created lattice, which is what authoritarianism is. Compassion, on the other hand, is a reaching out towards what is not a product of self-directed thought, a gesture to the greater reality of which we are merely a part.

Authoritarians, for all of their talk of submission to a greater God, are really placing Man at the pinnacle of reality, with this God as a proxy, a mere talking-point. Acknowledging the reality that we are subsets of, and participants in, a greater reality is an intelligent humility which will shatter the prison of our thought-created lattice.

Liberalism in a political sense, of course, often falls victim to ideological thinking, and this I too reject. However, its greatest strength is what is criticized by the right as its greatest weakness: openmindedness ("weakmindedness") and the willingness to reevaluate the status quo ("no values"). (These are virtues insofar as they are not infected with a thrall to any ideology which may have borne the status quo.)

It is for this reason that I can with some reasonableness characterize myself as a "liberal" - but I have no ideology which pins me there. It is important to remember that nothing is sacred - unless all is sacred.

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