While putting together the ‘Can You Be a Christian and…’ series, I encountered on more than one occasion the line of reasoning (I use the term lightly) used by moderate Christians that, essentially, certain parts of the Bible are no longer relevant. So you can, they said, be both a free thinker and a Christian; you can be gay, so long as you disregard what the bible says about homosexuality; you can be a Christian woman if you dismiss Paul’s denigration of women; you can acknowledge evolution provided you reinterpret what the bible says about creation; you can be a realist if you ignore the bible’s supernaturalism.
But if you’re going to disregard anything the bible teaches that appears incompatible with what we know about psychology, sexuality, biology and reality, then how does the Bible’s central objective truth, as one commenter on here calls it, survive? What makes its core message (that, in some way, Jesus’ death and resurrection is capable of saving humankind) an immutable, eternal truth, while almost everything else can be compromised, deemed to be ‘culture-bound’ and metaphorical, to the point of irrelevance?
I recognise, of course, that fundamentalist Christians don’t do this. For them the bible is inspired, infallible and immutable. They’re prepared to compromise themselves, science and reality in order to honour and preserve what the book says. For them evolution, feminism, homosexuality and independent thinking will always be wrong. The alternative is to acknowledge that the bible doesn’t get everything right and to take the approach of the liberal progressive Christian who is prepared to adjust and adapt what it says; to emasculate it.
Which brings us back to asking where this process stops. If progressive Christians are prepared to dilute to the point of meaninglessness what the bible has to say about creation, women, sexuality and reality itself then why not what it teaches about Jesus and salvation?
It’s a fact that almost all varieties of the Faith, including fundamentalism, are happy to ignore completely Paul and Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of God was due to arrive, in all its glory, in their own time. It’s the same with Jesus’ moral extremism (giving to all who ask, loving enemies, turning the other cheek.) So why not the rest of it?
Why are Paul’s muddled theology and selected bits of the Jesus stories considered to be the baby while the rest of the bible is the disposable bathwater? On what basis do progressive Christians decide what is inessential and what is crucial, critical, indispensable? Ideas about angry deities, blood sacrifice, the sins of the people and the resurrection of god-men are every bit as culture-bound as the bible’s perspective on all those other issues.
Because really, in the end, it’s all bathwater.
“On what basis do progressive Christians decide what is inessential and what is crucial, critical, indispensable?”
Even though it was nice being raised as a liberal christian, this question has a lot to do with why I’m now an atheist. And I think it may have a lot to do with why membership in the liberal denominations have been declining even faster that the fundigelical ones.
I had the same difficulty with liberal churches too. Too much compromise, I thought; ‘neither hot nor cold’, and all that. I was drawn instead to fundie ‘fellowships’ that appeared committed to the whole shebang. Yes, liberal denominations are in trouble: there’s an unappealing dishonesty – ‘we’ll accept this but not that’ – at their core.
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Agreed, but there is also more kindness and humanity to be found in those churches. So I’m torn on them. I’m not interested in participating any more (even UU is too churchy for me) but I do wish that more of the fundigelicals could shift to the liberal churches. Those churches do less harm, and sometimes their social projects can do a lot of good.
I guess I want the whole religion to decline and die out, but I’d prefer that the liberal churches die out last.
There’s a lot to be said for kindness, Ubi, I agree. I also agree about wanting the whole religion dying out, with liberal churches being the last to survive. I can’t see it, sadly; Christianity is nothing if not tenacious.
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