Liberal Christianity

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Liberal Christianity

Post  Neon Genesis on Sat Sep 19, 2009 2:03 pm

What are your thoughts on liberal Christianity? Do you think it's more rational than fundamentalist Christianity or do you think they're irrational dishonest cherry pickers? Do you think liberal Christians are our allies in the fight for secularism or are they enablers of extremism? My thoughts is that I don't think liberal Christians are cherry pickers any moreso than most Christians, whether fundamentalist or not, cherry pick the bible to some extent. It's impossible to follow everything in the bible literally when it's such a contradictory book with so many out-dated teachings, so some cherry picking is to be expected even if a Christian self-identifies as a biblical literalist. Furthermore, fundamentalist Christianity as we know it today is actually a more modern belief that was created as a reaction the Enlightenment movement and the belief of sola scriptura was a doctrine invented by Martin Luther. Before sola scriptura came along, Christians were more committed to tradition and the church as an institution than they were the bible itself (case in point, see the RCC). A good book that I can't recommend enough that goes into detail on the history of Jewish and Christian beliefs and interpretations of the bible is The Bible-A Biography by the historian Karen Armstrong. She points out in her book that the concept of interpreting scripture through symbolism and metaphors is actually a very ancient belief that dates back to Philo The Platonist and the ancient Jewish Greeks who believed that reading the Hebrew bible literally was barbaric, so they applied Platonic philosophy to their symbolic reading of scriptures.

On the subject of enabling extremists, I think some liberals are guilty of doing this but I think we should be careful of falling into sweeping generalizations. One example of a liberal Christian who has enabled fundamentalists I think is Obama. Obama is a very liberal Christian with many progressive beliefs about the bible and morality. I don't get the impression that he hates gays or wants a theocracy but he still expanded Bush's faith based organizations and he continues to deny the LBGT community equal rights in defense of so-called "traditional marriage." I don't get the feeling he's doing this out of hatred towards secularism but to try and appease the Religious Right to win support but he's wasting his time trying to win support from a group of people who would never support him unless he was one of him. At the same time, for every Christian that's a creationist, there's another Ken Miller out there fighting for evolution. For every Fred Phelps, there's another Gene Robinson promoting gay rights. In fact, the Metropolitan church is a Christian church that was established primarily for the LGBT community. I think it's more effective for us to build bridges and work together with those Christians who care about fighting against theocracies and promoting a secular government and I don't think we have to give up promoting critical thinking and a freethought society to work together with Christians who also promote secularism.

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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  jgrow2 on Sat Sep 19, 2009 9:00 pm

Very well put, Neon.

I believe that liberal Christians are either trying to reconcile some piece of their religious upbringing with what they've learned as adults, or they are trying to interpret a real spiritual feeling--oneness, unity, big love, whatever you want to call it--that they have experienced and use the language of the Bible--specifically parts of the Gospels and the epistles that are consistent in personality--to give voice to it.

Now why the Bible and not something else, like the Tao Te Ching or the Dhammapada or the lectures of Lin-Chi (compelling stuff by the way)? It's familiar. It resonates all through western culture (as I was reminded in another forum here)

Though the options I detailed might sound similar they're not. The former is a more desperate move than the latter. The latter is probably what a lot of so-called born-agains go through but cannot gather the distance to realize it. I went through a phase that could be described as "liberal Christian" and did a little of both options myself.
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  snafu on Sun Sep 20, 2009 9:08 am

A friend once said to me that broadly speaking, a religious liberal is prepared to examine their presuppositions, whilst the fundamentalist is not always ready to do so.
Aside from what specific liberals do a individuals, I think that examining presuppositions is necessary for truthseeking, and at that level, I think liberals are ok.
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  jgrow2 on Sun Sep 20, 2009 2:36 pm

snafu wrote:A friend once said to me that broadly speaking, a religious liberal is prepared to examine their presuppositions, whilst the fundamentalist is not always ready to do so.
Aside from what specific liberals do a individuals, I think that examining presuppositions is necessary for truthseeking, and at that level, I think liberals are ok.

Boom. Well spoken. I believe this is the truth too, to some degree. The "to some degree" has to do with the comfort level of that person in examining their beliefs and shedding them in favor of something with more evidentiary weight to it. Or not, if that particular belief is a deal-breaker to them.
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Sosa on Sun Sep 20, 2009 3:42 pm

I went through the "Liberal Christian" phase during my journey of deconvertion. As a christian I was much in favor of a secular society, keeping religion and state as separate as possible, opposed to creationism being taught at public schools and for same-sex marriage, and I know many progressive christians who also see it this way
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  NedStark on Mon Sep 21, 2009 12:00 am

EVERYBODY is a cherry-picker. Fundamentalist Christians, Liberal Christians, even us Agnostics and Atheists carry some irrational belief within us that we just aren't willing to let go. I think fundamentalism rises as a response to increases of secularism, and that "liberal" Christians don't really have much of an effect on the give-and-take aspect of it. There is always going to be a tug-of-war between the two sides, sometimes atheism will look like its winning, other times Fundamentalism will.

Even so, from what I've seen of so-called "liberal" churches, even they can have an agenda. Case-in-point, I was in a Church of Christ. Now, I don't consider it a fundamentalist church. They don't claim to be fundamentalist, and I've never heard them named as one. But when I was there they had a guest preacher who was trying to take advantage of Russia's weak educational system to plant Bibles in Russian and Ukranian public classrooms. He claimed it was because Russian youths had no moral center and the teachers were begging them to give them a moral guide, and according to this preacher, only the Bible could be that guide. I found it utterly distasteful to say the least, and I think if more of us visited these so-called "liberal" churches and hearing some of their plans to get religion injected back into government, I think fewer of us would have such a tolerant attitude.

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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Stegocephalian on Mon Sep 21, 2009 3:41 am

It seems to me that while liberal Christians may do a bit more cherry picking when it comes to the Bible than fundamentalists (and both are guilty of it), the fundamentalist does more cherry picking when it comes to reality, and the science that describes it.

I think the former is preferable to the latter. I see liberal Christians more as allies - necessary allies - in trying to keep religion out of worldly governance, and in opposing the outright propaganda and misinformation when it comes to science.

Some liberal Christians, like Kenneth Miller, have a sort of a belief system that I do not see conflicting with science on any level - if there has to be Christianity, and I don't believe that it'll die out any time soon, I'd rather it be Miller's kind of Christianity than the Bible thumping kind.

The problem I see though, with religion, especially the Judeo-Christian and Islamic kinds, is that it puts faith on a pedestal as a virtue, rather than identifying it for the dangerous vice it is. It makes it more difficult to teach people the sorts of critical thinking skills that are a vital inoculation against the spread of dogmatic, authoritarian ideologies of all kinds.
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Neon Genesis on Tue Sep 22, 2009 12:31 am

NedStark wrote:
Even so, from what I've seen of so-called "liberal" churches, even they can have an agenda. Case-in-point, I was in a Church of Christ. Now, I don't consider it a fundamentalist church. They don't claim to be fundamentalist, and I've never heard them named as one. But when I was there they had a guest preacher who was trying to take advantage of Russia's weak educational system to plant Bibles in Russian and Ukranian public classrooms. He claimed it was because Russian youths had no moral center and the teachers were begging them to give them a moral guide, and according to this preacher, only the Bible could be that guide. I found it utterly distasteful to say the least, and I think if more of us visited these so-called "liberal" churches and hearing some of their plans to get religion injected back into government, I think fewer of us would have such a tolerant attitude.
Is this the United Church Of Christ you're referring to? I think the case with the UCC is that it's split like the Episcopalian church where some churches are ultra-liberal and gay friendly but other congregations are more conservative.

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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  NedStark on Tue Sep 22, 2009 9:26 am

Neon Genesis wrote:
NedStark wrote:
Even so, from what I've seen of so-called "liberal" churches, even they can have an agenda. Case-in-point, I was in a Church of Christ. Now, I don't consider it a fundamentalist church. They don't claim to be fundamentalist, and I've never heard them named as one. But when I was there they had a guest preacher who was trying to take advantage of Russia's weak educational system to plant Bibles in Russian and Ukranian public classrooms. He claimed it was because Russian youths had no moral center and the teachers were begging them to give them a moral guide, and according to this preacher, only the Bible could be that guide. I found it utterly distasteful to say the least, and I think if more of us visited these so-called "liberal" churches and hearing some of their plans to get religion injected back into government, I think fewer of us would have such a tolerant attitude.
Is this the United Church Of Christ you're referring to? I think the case with the UCC is that it's split like the Episcopalian church where some churches are ultra-liberal and gay friendly but other congregations are more conservative.

No not the UCC. They're independent.

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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Neon Genesis on Tue Sep 22, 2009 10:46 am

Are they the COC who doesn't believe in musical instruments? I was a member of that COC and I can tell you from personal experience that they are definitely not liberals. When I think of liberals, I think of those Christians who don't believe in the inerrancy of the bible, don't believe in hell and accept gays and evolution. If the COC doesn't self-identify as fundamentalist, I think Restorationists would be the accurate term for them?

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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  NedStark on Tue Sep 22, 2009 11:53 am

Neon Genesis wrote:Are they the COC who doesn't believe in musical instruments? I was a member of that COC and I can tell you from personal experience that they are definitely not liberals. When I think of liberals, I think of those Christians who don't believe in the inerrancy of the bible, don't believe in hell and accept gays and evolution. If the COC doesn't self-identify as fundamentalist, I think Restorationists would be the accurate term for them?

Yeah that's the same group. I guess after being a Jehovah's Witness any church you don't have to wear a suit-and-tie to seems liberal to me.

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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Brad on Tue Sep 22, 2009 2:41 pm

I grew up in the Church of Christ - the Southern U.S. version, not the UCC, and I'm very confident in referring to that sect as fundamentalist. Whenever this evangelical vs. fundamentalist distinction comes up, I always recall, with both a chuckle and simultaneous sadness, the day my Church of Christ-devoted grandmother told me how sad she was that Baptists would all go to hell because they allowed musical instruments in their services.
This was but a tiny example of the doctrine taught in the church. Of course, outside the church walls, all was sweetness and light and toothy grins - everybody was called a "fellow Christian" - even Presbyterians! Very Happy


About the liberal vs. literalist thing:
Those are huge categories and accordingly any generalizations we make about them will have lots of exceptions.
Having said that, my two cents worth are as follows:

The bottom line cancer of human thought is belief in non-existent deities. That's where the harms - the hatred, the oppression, the violence, the scapegoating - begins. For that reason, I agree with all the so-called "new atheists" that "liberal" believers are at root just as much responsible for the belief-spawned disasters we see as fundamentalists who are more extreme on the surface. But both factions of believers promote and support the same noxious nonsense, whether with sweet platitudes or with bombs.

To generalize broadly, I'd say that fundamentalists and "liberal" believers are both honest and dishonest (cherry picking is a form of dishonesty) in different ways.
For their part, fundamentalists honestly acknowledge that they simply reject reason, logic, and evidence as the primary basis for understanding reality. They purport to believe the entire Bible on the basis of "faith" (in scare quotes because faith of that sort is a euphemism for fear and wishful thinking) - science, evidence, and reason be damned, if you'll pardon the pun.
Still, as someone noted above, they all do their share of cherry picking and non-literal "interpretation" to avoid embarrassment even among themselves, especially when it comes to Hebrew cosmology.

Non-literalist "liberal" believers just sort of do the reverse. They acknowledge honestly that the Bible can't be read by a sane person literally in the 21st century. So to maintain their cherished fantasies they come up with the most amazingly far-fetched and serpentine interpretations and presto - "That's what God meant! It was there all along!" Laughing Rolling Eyes
What irritates me most about "liberal" believers is that their interpretive gymnastics allows them also to deny any sort of connection or responsibility for the damaging and deadly acts of their fundamentalist brethren. That's true for all of the Abrahamic faiths, in particular.
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  snafu on Tue Sep 22, 2009 5:49 pm

Brad, what a good dinstinction you have highlighted between the two. I've never thought of it like that.
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Neon Genesis on Tue Sep 22, 2009 7:23 pm

Brad wrote:
The bottom line cancer of human thought is belief in non-existent deities. That's where the harms - the hatred, the oppression, the violence, the scapegoating - begins. For that reason, I agree with all the so-called "new atheists" that "liberal" believers are at root just as much responsible for the belief-spawned disasters we see as fundamentalists who are more extreme on the surface. But both factions of believers promote and support the same noxious nonsense, whether with sweet platitudes or with bombs.


What irritates me most about "liberal" believers is that their interpretive gymnastics allows them also to deny any sort of connection or responsibility for the damaging and deadly acts of their fundamentalist brethren. That's true for all of the Abrahamic faiths, in particular.
But I disagree that it's belief in God in itself that leads to violence. There are plenty of Christians who are nice and friendly and open minded and would never hurt a fly. On the other hand, there are atheists out there who can be very closed minded, judgmental, and violent (Pol Pot and Stalin anyone?). I'm not saying Pol Pot or Stalin did their atrocities because of atheism. I'm just pointing out that being an atheist does not make one automatically immune to irrationality and immorality and there are plenty of wars and atrocities that are started that are completely unrelated to religion (Vietnam anyone?). I know quite a few atheists who wish Obama was murdered because he's an evil socialist and they buy into all the lies and health care conspiracy theories. Even though they're rational and critical thinkers when it comes to religion, being an atheist has not made them be rational about other subjects. This is why as an atheist I think it's more important to promote thinking for yourself and rationality than atheism in itself. If we're simply promoting atheism as a replacement to theism, then nothing has been learned and we'll only repeat the mistakes of the past. As for the differences between liberalism and literalism, I see the big difference as literalists tend to be more concerned about the after life and make their actions in accordance to this priority whereas liberals see the afterlife is irrelevant to your actions in this life.

Non-literalist "liberal" believers just sort of do the reverse. They acknowledge honestly that the Bible can't be read by a sane person literally in the 21st century. So to maintain their cherished fantasies they come up with the most amazingly far-fetched and serpentine interpretations and presto - "That's what God meant! It was there all along!" Laughing Rolling Eyes
While there are some liberal Christians who try to sanitize the bible, the majority of liberal Christians do not try to pretend that the bible contains immoral teachings on it. They simply accept that the bible is not the inerrant word of God and discard the verses they consider out-dated and I personally don't see how this is dishonest in itself. I love the philosophy of Bertrand Russell but am I being dishonest if I don't always agree with everything he says but value the points he makes I do agree with or do I have to agree with everything I like to read to be considered honest?

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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Brad on Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:25 am

Neon,
It’s difficult to be clear about this subject in short internet posts and in my post above I was less than completely clear. Sorry 'bout that.

Of course there a lots of Christians (and believers in other religious dogmas) who are wonderful people and who lead exemplary lives of compassion and service to mankind. I would never argue otherwise.
(And of course there are more than a few atheists who are utter jerks, to use the clinical terminology.)

In short, on a micro or individual level, and even in the context of lots of small groups, very often belief in a deity is fairly harmless - even of net benefit for the believers and their personal contacts.
However, it looks to me that the opposite is true on the macro or social level. The more I study history, current events, psychology and sociology, the more I’m persuaded that deity beliefs have always, and will always, lead inevitably to some significant number of believers doing great damage to themselves, to their families, and to society at large as a direct consequence of their beliefs that,
1) there is a supreme deity and
2) that the deity wants some situation or other to change by any means necessary, and
3) that the deity has left instructions within some text which allows believers to figure out the deity's needs and desires and,
4) that the deity offers some wonderful reward for believers who work to do "God's Will" as they perceive it to be.

Two things must be said at this point. First, if there really is a supreme deity, human complaints about harms created by belief would be irrelevant, to put it mildly.
But it appears we agree that belief in the Biblical or Koranic God is unsupportable and unjustified.

Second, in today's world the harms created directly by belief are enormous and potentially absolutely catastrophic. And for my part, the more I study and reflect, the more I'm convinced that the net consequences of deity beliefs across societies and the world - that is on the macro level - are horribly, tragically, negative. I long ago abandoned the idea that all the good done by believers balances out the bad acts and consequences.

Next, of course you’re right that people Pol Pot and Stalin didn’t commit their atrocities as a result of being atheists. But it is true that the methods they used to cause their followers to forsake their own basic humanity and to dehumanize those who opposed them mirrored the methods and tactics of dogmatic religions.
(And very often, followers of megalomaniacs have been made their fodder, that is, predisposed to be credulous and to accept “magic bullets” and nonsensical, scapegoating ideas through having been raised within some critical-thinking suppressing, deity-believing religion! Nazism is a prime example of that – take a look at Hitler’s personal background, and note also that most Nazis were Lutherans or Catholics.)
In short, I agree with author Sam Harris that the problem with dogmatic and Utopian ideologies led by charismatic demagogues is not that they aren’t enough like religion, but that they are too much like religion.

As far as wars and general atrocities which were unrelated to religion, I’d bet I can name at least half a dozen that were directly spawned by religious dogma for every one that even arguably arose under secular circumstances. And of those, I'd bet a good argument can be made that religion and religious agendas had at least some underlying impetus in the origins and persistence of most.

You and I agree completely that atheism is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. The end goal is to reduce ignorance, oppression, violence, scapegoating, and the like is it not? Or put in positive terms, the goal is to increase everyone’s chances of living fulfilling and peaceful lives where both truth and our fellow beings are accorded appropriately high value, right?
Once again to make a very long story short, my own view is that at this point in history reducing deity related superstition is the best and most crucial means toward achieving those goals.

Regarding your Christian acquaintances who reject some parts of the Bible as “outdated” while keeping their belief in other parts, like, say, the resurrection from the dead of Jesus, on what basis would you say they choose one part over another? Would you say when they make those choices they’re being honest with themselves and with available evidence and reality or might they be engaging in a wee bit of self-delusion to maintain their comforting beliefs in the big sky daddy?

Finally, I have to say your analogy to reading Bertrand Russell seems strange. After all, Mr. Russell didn’t claim to be the Son of God, did he? And we have pictures of him, and recordings, and living people who knew him, and he even wrote his own books, unlike any of the characters religious people worship. And disagreeing with one or more of the philosophical points (not necessarily his mathematical points) made by Russell is no problem is it, given that he was just a man, albeit a really intelligent man?
On the other hand, wouldn’t you agree that tossing out bits of “God’s Holy Word”, while still claiming that’s what the Bible contains, is a little more sticky for Christians?
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Stegocephalian on Wed Sep 23, 2009 11:48 am

Putting my two cents into this discussion, I think the problem isn't at all theism or atheism, but dogmatism.

The question that has to be asked is "What do all the religious tyrannies and attrocities, and the secular ones have in common?"

And the answer, I think, is clear - it is dogma. The placing of some ideology, text, or person on a pedestal, into a position where questioning them or being skeptical of their claims is forbidden, or at least strongly discouraged.

As such, the part about religion that is dangerous is not the belief that there exists a god, but rather the stressing of the importance of faith in God as revealed through scripture, or a charismatic spiritual leader; sources that are beyond reproach. The dangerous bit is making doubt a "sin", and blind trust in the accepted dogma a virtue.

This kind of authoritarian dogmatism seems to be the central source of danger in both religious and secular attrocities.

As such, I am not against theism, as in a belief in a deity, but rather the way this belief is often held - as unquestioned, unquestionable dogma, with religious teachings that are seen as part and parcel of the god belief itself.

Similarly, the same kind of authoritarian dogmatism can be built around nationalistic, essentially xenophobic ideas, or political utopias, who's feasibility it isn't permissable to question without serious negative consequences for anyone who dares to do so.
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Brad on Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:05 pm

Stego,
I'd like to discuss your post in greater depth with you - I agree in considerable part - but will be overwhelmed with other projects for the next couple of days.

For the moment, though, can you think of a better, or historically more frequent, way to create acceptance of harmful dogma than to say that it comes from a supreme being - especially a supreme being who offers big rewards for compliance in this life and thereafter?

Also, the damage of deity belief created through wars and atrocities is only a part of the damage such superstition and magical thinking does to humanity. In other words, extremist and harmful secular dogmas generally (but not always) confine themselves to the political, while the harms of deity-related dogmas go to virtually every area of life and every type of human interaction.
And as I mentioned in the earlier post, for every war and debacle that was even arguably based solely upon non-religious circumstances, there are easily half a dozen belief-generated conflicts and tragedies. That should tell us something, yes?

gotta go.
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Neon Genesis on Wed Sep 23, 2009 3:09 pm

Brad wrote:Neon,


Second, in today's world the harms created directly by belief are enormous and potentially absolutely catastrophic. And for my part, the more I study and reflect, the more I'm convinced that the net consequences of deity beliefs across societies and the world - that is on the macro level - are horribly, tragically, negative. I long ago abandoned the idea that all the good done by believers balances out the bad acts and consequences.
Awhile back I had read The Portable Atheist and there was some selected writings from Ibn Warraq's book Why I Am Not A Muslim in it and one of the points Warraq brought up was that polytheistic societies were actually more tolerant and open minded than monotheistic societies were, which tended to be more intolerant and dogmatic. There's also the case of Sweden where most of the people there are either so post-theistic in society they don't even consider the question of God's existence serious enough to consider or they're ultra liberal Christians who believe in a higher power and the fundamentalists have virtually no political voice over there and everyone gets along just fine, so I see it more to do with certain types of beliefs that are more dangerous than others.

It's sort of like how there are some drugs that are more harmful than others. LDS might be more harmful than marijuana but they're both harmful if you over-dose in them. But if you just do marijuana in moderation, than it's not anymore harmful than drinking alcohol whereas doing even a little LDS can lead to castasphore. I see liberal Christianity as being like the marijuana of religion and fundamentalist extremism is like LDS or meth or some other hardcore drug and having a "war" on religion is about as productive to me as having a "war" on drugs. This is not to say that I don't think we shouldn't challenge unsupported beliefs and claims wherever we see them no matter what side they're on in the reilgious spectrum, but I'm not sure this evangelizing techinque is the most effective way to go about it.

Regarding your Christian acquaintances who reject some parts of the Bible as “outdated” while keeping their belief in other parts, like, say, the resurrection from the dead of Jesus, on what basis would you say they choose one part over another? Would you say when they make those choices they’re being honest with themselves and with available evidence and reality or might they be engaging in a wee bit of self-delusion to maintain their comforting beliefs in the big sky daddy?
The standard that liberal Christians use is the Golden Rule. Liberal Christians see Jesus' message of loving your neighbor as yourself as being the central message of Christianity and verses that don't reflect this core message they reject as immoral and barbaric. For example, giving to the poor and helping sick people is reflecing the core message of the Golden Rule, but they see homophobia and judging others as being against the Golden Rule, so they reject that sort of dogmatism on the basis that it doesn't reflect Jesus's greatest commands, which is loving your neighbor as yourself. Liberal Christians also take into account the discoveries of secular mainstream biblical scholarship and science and discard the beliefs that are absolutely disproven by those, like creationism and a literal historical reading of the gospels. Liberal Christians essentially have more in common with what Dawkins calls "Einstenian religion" than they do with fundamentalists. A book that's a good introduction to liberal Christianity that I would recommend is Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary by the biblical scholar and liberal Christian Marcus Borg.









Finally, I have to say your analogy to reading Bertrand Russell seems strange. After all, Mr. Russell didn’t claim to be the Son of God, did he? And we have pictures of him, and recordings, and living people who knew him, and he even wrote his own books, unlike any of the characters religious people worship. And disagreeing with one or more of the philosophical points (not necessarily his mathematical points) made by Russell is no problem is it, given that he was just a man, albeit a really intelligent man?
On the other hand, wouldn’t you agree that tossing out bits of “God’s Holy Word”, while still claiming that’s what the Bible contains, is a little more sticky for Christians?
I was trying to think of an example to show that everyone cherry picks the parts of philoshophy that they like and discards the parts that they don't believe in to some extent, whether it's secular or religious, and liberals see Jesus as more like a philosphopher/guru than they do a magical sorcerer. Perhaps Socrates would be a better comparision since didn't Plato write all his lines?

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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Stegocephalian on Thu Sep 24, 2009 3:35 am

Brad, I essentially agree with you on the general harmfulness of superstition - you definitely have a point there. Superstitions, when they become prominent in the lives of people, can lead to a great deal of harm, of the financial, and health related kind. (There's a great site whatstheharm.net that catalogues the harm caused by superstition).

As much as I think that as a whole, humanity would be better off shedding it's superstitions, I have to acknowledge too that just like situations of great harm, I have to be open to the possibility that certain supertitious notions can lead to a personal benefit.

Consider, for example, the common platitude "everything happens for a reason", that is so often uttered by people in response to personal setbacks. While I think the notion is silly, I have to wonder whether this kind of thinking boosts confidence, and staves off depression?

I don't know enough of this - whether there have been studies comparing the recovery of people from personal tragedies and how they corrolate with whether they believe in an over-arching "purpose" to the tragedy or not. It would certainly be an interesting subject.

The God belief is related to this "everything happens for a reason", and if a person believes in a vague sort of god, of whom they are not comfortable saying anything else than that he's essentially good and want's what's best for people, then I can see this sort of belief possibly having a psychological function as a sort of a crutch to stave off disappointments.

The problem comes when people start thinking they know what this god wants, how it wants people to behave, and that the rules are contained in some authoritative source, or dictated by some religious leader.

I doubt though whether this potential ego-boost through thinking that "everything happens for a purpose" is beneficial enough to counter all the negative caused by magical thinking.

Brad wrote:Stego,
For the moment, though, can you think of a better, or historically more frequent, way to create acceptance of harmful dogma than to say that it comes from a supreme being - especially a supreme being who offers big rewards for compliance in this life and thereafter?

Interesting question, and I would have to answer "no" - I can't think of a more historically frequent way to create harmful dogmatic movements.

But, again, playing the devil's advocate here, is this due to the fact that the belief in gods has always been there in societies, that it's been handy? And that since religions develop separately within tribes and societies, it always makes for clear difference between "us" and "them"?

What I'm asking essentially, is that if you took the god-beliefs out of the picture, indeed, took supernatural beliefs out of the picture, and reran a secular alternative history, would you find less attrocities and wars, or would you find essentially the same amount of violence, but now attatched to skin color, cultural differences, political ideas of how to govern, etc. etc.?

I do think that if you took theism out of the picture, not much would change - but if you took all supernatural notions out of the picture.... maybe there would be a change for the better; but this is probably not because of the removal of those beliefs as such, but because of what people would need to learn in order to get rid of those beliefs.

In other words, people would have to learn critical thinking - and this includes the rejection of authoritative pronouncements that are immune from critical scrutiny. I think it would be this, the teaching of critical thinking skills, and the understanding, by people in general, of the value of this method of approaching claims, that would do the trick of significantly reducing attrocities and tyranny; that it would also reduce supernatural thinking would be an additional boon.
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Brad on Thu Sep 24, 2009 9:38 am

Neon & Stego,
Just wanted to let you know that I'm just passing through a hotel with wireless and was alerted to your posts by an email message - an interesting feature of this forum.
I've scanned your posts above and am both really impressed with your thinking and honored that you take the time to respond to me so thoughtfully. Thanks very much!
I've got to hit the road now, but I'll read your posts more carefully and reply in a day or so.
Thanks again.
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Neon Genesis on Thu Sep 24, 2009 11:15 am

Stegocephalian wrote:

I don't know enough of this - whether there have been studies comparing the recovery of people from personal tragedies and how they corrolate with whether they believe in an over-arching "purpose" to the tragedy or not. It would certainly be an interesting subject.




There was a study done on this on the Reasonable Doubts podcast episode, "Profiles Of The Godless" that I would recommend listening to if you haven't yet. The study found that atheists who were certain in their disbelief were just as satisfied with their lives as theists who were certain in their beliefs. What causes stress isn't a lack of god belief but it's when people are going through doubts. If I recall correctly though, the study also found Canadian atheists had the most satisfied lives of them all.

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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Stegocephalian on Thu Sep 24, 2009 11:23 am

Neon Genesis - I have listened to that podcast, and am aware of this study, but what I was wondering about is not life satisfaction, but recovery from personal tragedy, and disappointments.

In other words, do those who think that "everything happens for a purpose", those who believe in some sort of benevolent plan from above, recover faster or better or with a lower incidence of depression, than those who do not believe in any such thing? It seems to me at least plausible that there might be a difference here, to one direction or the other.

This would be an interesting subject of study, I think.
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Neon Genesis on Thu Sep 24, 2009 11:39 am

I don't know if this what you're looking for and I don't have the link on me, but there was a study done that showed that religious people prolong death more than atheists do.

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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Stegocephalian on Thu Sep 24, 2009 12:53 pm

I've heard of that study too - quite recently, on some podcast, but can't place it. Shocked

But that really doesn't hit the mark either - it does not surprice me that believers in the supernatural might suffer more anxiety close to death, since in the mind of such a person, even the most devoutly religious one, there must be the "what if..." going on - "what if my denomination was the wrong one after all, and I should have sided with the Catholics... or the Lutherans... or maybe the Calvinists?"; "What if the path to salvation is through works, and not though faith after all?"; "What about that thing about it being more difficult for a rich man to get to heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle... am I too wealthy for heaven?", and so on.

Whereas the naturalistically thinking atheist has dispensed with notions of the supernatural, and has had time to come to terms with his own mortality - he knows that the state of death will be no different from the state before he was born; he won't exist. There really is nothing to fear about not existing, perhaps the only source of anxiety is the actual process of getting to that point, and the pain and discomfort it might involve.

What I was talking about was recovery from a tragedy or disappointment - nothing to do with dying yourself, but rather to do with losing something; health, property, a loved one, an opportunity that you had built your hopes around.

After such a disappointment, does having the belief that "everything happens for a reason" allow you to bounce back faster, and more reliably? I don't know. It might. This is what I'd like to see a study on.
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Re: Liberal Christianity

Post  Moses on Mon Sep 28, 2009 12:39 pm

Neon Genesis wrote:The standard that liberal Christians use is the Golden Rule. Liberal Christians see Jesus' message of loving your neighbor as yourself as being the central message of Christianity and verses that don't reflect this core message they reject as immoral and barbaric. For example, giving to the poor and helping sick people is reflecing the core message of the Golden Rule, but they see homophobia and judging others as being against the Golden Rule, so they reject that sort of dogmatism on the basis that it doesn't reflect Jesus's greatest commands, which is loving your neighbor as yourself. Liberal Christians also take into account the discoveries of secular mainstream biblical scholarship and science and discard the beliefs that are absolutely disproven by those, like creationism and a literal historical reading of the gospels. Liberal Christians essentially have more in common with what Dawkins calls "Einstenian religion" than they do with fundamentalists. A book that's a good introduction to liberal Christianity that I would recommend is Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary by the biblical scholar and liberal Christian Marcus Borg.

I know many liberal "Christians" of this stripe and while I like them on a personal level and am glad that they don't do the harm that fundies do, I get so frustrated when discussing religion with them. Yes, Jesus taught "love thy neighbor" but it was only the second "greatest commandment," behind "love your God with all your heart, mind, and soul." And for every so-called moral thing Jesus said there was a threat of eternal fire behind it. You can find the golden rule in ancient Greeks, Confucious, etc and there are no threats of Hell, no recommendations of becoming "eunuchs for the lord" and no crazy end-times predictions. Jesus was not a moral revolutionary, as the "love thy neighbor" was merely restating what is already found in the Hebrew Bible. He was a deluded Jew who thought the end of the world was coming- FAIL. Contra-Borg and the Jesus seminar, the liberal Jesus is a fantasy, as schalors since Albert Schweitzer on down to Bart Ehrman will tell you. Socrates is a hella better role model than Jesus.
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Re: Liberal Christianity

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