Friday, November 2, 2012

The Christian Left? Are You Sure You Know What You're Doing?

I checked Victor Reppert's latest postings, and found a very brief link to a site touting the Christian Left.

Look, I don't doubt there can be Christian liberals, in a sense. I think they're gravely mistaken, but I could easily see a Christian believing that there's a government duty to provide for the poor, and further that this duty should manifest in socialist policies. Victor himself is, as near as I can tell, a Christian like that - I'm sure it's more complicated than that for him, but it'd be along those lines. And he seems to reach those positions from a sincere Christian faith, which I can respect.

But the Christian Left site? If I were Victor, I'd be profoundly worried at its existence.

Let's go down the list on the main page alone and see what problems there are to point out.


First off, notice that the page is plastered with links to Michael Dowd's "Evolutionary Christianity". Now, I've blogged about Dowd before - I've read his books. I say the following as a theistic evolutionist myself: Michael Dowd's beliefs are not 'Christianity, but accepting evolution'. They are, literally, 'atheism, but with a kind of chipper low-grade pantheist spin'. Everything from the resurrection to the existence of God is gone under Dowd's view, 'reinterpreted' out of existence. "God" becomes "reality", which in turn becomes "nature", which in turn becomes "nature, according to naturalists". Not even the Nature of Baruch Spinoza, complete with its metaphysical oddities - it's not for nothing that Dowd is labeled a religious naturalist at the Wikipedia, and who writes articles like 'Thank God for the New Atheists'.

If this is the personification of liberal Christianity, then liberal Christianity is an oxymoron. It's just atheism with smiley face and obnoxious slogans/images.

I was half tempted to go down the list of this site's main page content and give comment, but honest to God, there's just not much there to talk about that's depthful. There's the usual "liberal identity" move of over the top self-congratulation displayed in spades, complete with labeling their every political belief as "Social Justice". There's the usual assurance that they don't define Christianity by opposition to gay marriage or abortion, which in this case means that they're in favor of gay marriage and a "right" to abortion in pretty much every case. (Really, even their facebook timeline features get out the vote ads by Planned Parenthood warning that Roe v Wade may hang in the balance this election.)

What really stands out is this particular bit:

The tree that is the Christian Right all too frequently bears fruit of anger, hate and judgment. It produces some strange fruit. “The same strange fruit that white supremacists hung from the trees in the South. The same strange fruit that the Nazis baked in the ovens of Auschwitz. The same strange fruit that was diced and sliced with machetes in Rwanda. The same strange fruit that is left to rot to death in Africa because the cost of a cure may undercut someone’s bottom line. The same strange fruit that is pounded to death daily with rocks and bombs in the Middle East. The same strange fruit that are depressed to death because of homophobic bullying. Trees that bear these fruits, systems that bear these fruits are to be cut down and thrown into the fires – they are the chaff that God wills to burn in an “unquenchable fire,” where they will bear the fruit of domination no longer.” (from Rev. Mark Sandlin’s sermon, “All Means All.”) 
So, there you have it. Are you a conservative Christian? Well, you're part of the same movement that hung blacks with the KKK, burned jews with the nazis, chopped up yet more blacks in Africa, kill even MORE blacks (apparently by blocking research for, I guess, an AIDS cure), stoning people to death in the Middle East (wait, killing christian converts from Islam is a Christian Right thing?), killing gays... and to top it off you, conservative Christian, are going to hell. (Not literally, hell's not real. Neither is heaven. See: Michael Dowd.)

Look, I make an effort to be relaxed about politics. I'm socially conservative, even economically conservative, but I know better than to allow myself to be whipped into a frenzy by the GOP and used as a political tool. I also realize that discussions about economics and social programs can, at times, be pretty nuanced - it's not a fight between "communism and capitalism" exclusively, with capitalism the pure and holy option. But this? If I were a Liberal Christian - a sincere, believing one in the mold of what I think Victor Reppert is - this site would horrify me. It would be like me identifying as Christian Rightist, and finding the Christian Right site where liberal Christians are all derided as faggot commies who're gonna go to hell, and finding the site plastered with links to Ken Ham's latest book, all while repeatedly talking about how Christianity is all about FREEDOM and Christ was a right-winger who'd be in favor of everything from owning semi-automatics to a nice big tax break for Apple.

Really, what a rotten site in every way.

14 comments:

Syllabus said...

There are a couple of things that really annoy me about the Christian Left. For one thing, they seem to have this overbearing antipathy for logic and clear thinking on some issues - homosexuality, for instance - and prefer to make emotional arguments. Whenever I point our that sure, emotional arguments are important but they're not the only thing, they start on some vituperative tirade about oppression or something like that. They seem to have an anti-rational streak a mile wide. What's funny is that they constantly paint the more conservative evangelicals as people who hate "science" or any sort of educated rationality, yet they themselves offer little else than emotionally charged rhetoric.

The other thing about them that really annoys me is that they subjugate their Christianity to their political sympathies, to the point where it is truly unclear which of these - their political beliefs or their Christianity - is their religion. This isn't an exclusive ailment of the Left, of course; the Christian Right does it all the time. But it still bugs the heck out of me.

Crude said...

See, I actually thought you'd be playing a little defense for the Christian Left here if you bothered to comment - I vaguely recall you being onboard with the Social Justice thing, though of course you (like Victor) are relaxed about it.

I've noticed the 'vituperative tirade' bit. A lot of times, I don't think that's merely a case of someone being overly emotional - I think it's a conscious tactic. I recall recently some minor internet comedian made a transexual joke... I mean, something tame like 'Trannysaurus Rex, ha ha'. And the reaction was just furious, angry, enraged. This guy at first said, look, sorry, I can't take your reactions too seriously, it's just a joke... and then it was all bets are off and they're connecting telling a joke like that with creating an environment where someone gets pulled out of their car and their head bashed in with a lead pipe because it's 'an environment of hate'. I think it didn't take 24 hours for him to buckle, say he was wrong, apologize profusely, erase the joke, talk about how he just gave 100 bucks to such and such charity and how he now knows he was totally wrong and he's been 'educated' and... it was freaking pathetic.

But, the point of the story is that it worked. And I think a lot of them know it work. Really, gay marriage and those issues have changed radically in favor of liberal views, and 'rational arguments' had nothing to do with it. They run away from those in terrors. But holy hell, can you ever play the emotional card with something like that. What spooks me there is, there's no real way to defuse it other than playing it yourself - I mean in a practical, persuasive sense. It's like MAD for rational debate.

I agree about the subjugation of Christianity to political sympathies. I actually think there's a difference in how it manifests, but it's hard to articulate right now. I think roughly, the Christian Right is more likely to just have blind spots - forgetting that, even if you have more freedom, small government, etc, you still have a cultural war to engage in. You still have to promote a culture of giving and volunteering and charity, without the government oversight. With Christian Left, you more often see not just omissions, but bizarre active contradictions and absurdities. I can practically guarantee that that crazy 'Christian Left' site will argue that gay marriage should be legal because it's completely improper for government policy to be dictated by religious beliefs, and also the government should have supremely generous welfare policies because (they are certain) this is exactly what Christ would want.

Syllabus said...

I don't think an edorsement of certain issue that are associated with a certain party - sound economic policies, say, or good welfare - should be assumed to be a wholesale endorsement of that party. I don't absolutely endorse the Left in any permutation any more than I do the Right. I'm too much of a moderate to do otherwise.

Also, I think a necessary distinction has to be made between what the legal status of something should be and what the moral status is. One of the things that happens today is that many conservative Christians are of the opinion that only the things which are morally permissible should be legal - which ignores, I think, teachings like that of St. Paul in I Corinthians 5 - and that many liberal Christians - in the social, and not necessarily the theological sense - think that all that is legal is moral. Indeed, they think that certain things which are not yet legal are perfectly morally acceptable, simply because they don't want to be, I don't know, "unloving". And they consequently end up fudging the concept of sin so, so much. I think I mentioned in another thread what I thought the primary problem of that part of the Church that takes its place on the left is.

And I loathe the phrase "social justice", if only because it's so vague. If by it you mean being in favour of any one specific issue - let's say, gay civil unions - then I think it's a matter of looking at the specific issue. As far as gay civil unions are concerned, I'm pretty much inclined to not care too much about it. That is, I don't really care too much about whether gay civil unions are legalized. The government saying that these two people are husband and husband or wife and wife is, basically, moot. That doesn't make it marriage. Again, though, if civil unions aren't proper marriages - which I'm inclined to think that they aren't - it doesn't seem to make sense to hold them to the same conventions that actual marriages are held to. At least, it isn't prima facie apparent that we ought. Of course, this doesn't mean that I endorse gay unions as a matter of morality, any more than the fact that you, as a Catholic, endorse laws that in principle allow others to buy and use contraception (which I assume you do) means that you morally endorse the use of contraception. And in any case, it's the homosexual activity that goes on within the union that I'm morally against. That will happen with or without the union. All that to say, whether or not I'm a "social justice" person will depend on how the term is defined, as it is defined in so many different ways.

Anyhoo. It usually happens that on one issue I'll sound like a liberal tree-hugger, and on another I'll sound like a huge conservative, so I'm not too worried about it.

Syllabus said...

It may also be the case that - thought I hate to give psychological explanations - many people on the Christian left are basically just taking those positions so as to get as far away from the positions they were brought up to believe, sort of like the way that the child may unconsciously become messy if their parent was extremely strict about neatness. If you want a good example of what I mean, read some of this guy's blogs: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/ If this guy is the poster child for "progressive" Christianity, then I'm emphatically NOT for its progression.

On a side note, one of the reasons that I like Catholic social teaching and distributism is the way in which it seems to combine some of the best of liberal positions and some of the best of conservative positions into a coherent mass. Pity no one has ever tried to run a country on a distributist model.

Crude said...

Alright, then I'm definitely misremembering something you said - I could have sworn I saw you talking up "social justice". And I agree about the problems with them - it ultimately comes across as meaning little more than "supporting policies I personally like, but since you can argue any given policy helps other people, make it sound like it's some kind of noble act on my part".

As for civil unions... see, in principle I'd be alright with them. I used to be supportive of them for pretty much the exact reasons you outline. But really, as near as I can tell... no one actually wants a civil union. For LGBT activists, it's nothing but a sham and always has been - it's just a waypoint on the route to gay marriage (and even gay marriage itself doesn't seem like 'the goal', so much as the hoped for results of legalizing gay marriage.) Outside of the activists, I don't think I've ever encountered someone who sincerely approved of same-sex relationships and who thought of civil unions in the sense of 'Yes, okay, having these obviates marriage.'

So I ask myself, if that is the case - and it seems to be - how can I support or even be apathetic to civil unions, when the only point of civil unions is/was paving the way for gay marriage? It was a sham, like most compromises seem to be nowadays.

As for the 'unloving' thing... I think it goes beyond that. That's part of the emotional argument, but I seriously question how many people sincerely believe that. As I've said elsewhere, I think the entire topic of sex gets supremely murky for people for all sorts of reasons - but with gay marriage fights it's particularly bad, since the emotional arguments rely on a bizarre understanding of the relationships. To hear advocates talk, the fight is that 'Two people love each other and YOU CAN'T STAND THAT'. And, of course, opponents of this mince words and talk broad, because being blunt would entail being way too vulgar.

Syllabus said...

Alright, then I'm definitely misremembering something you said - I could have sworn I saw you talking up "social justice"

Possible, though not likely. If I did, it was probably in a particular context, like welfare or safety net programs.

For LGBT activists, it's nothing but a sham and always has been - it's just a waypoint on the route to gay marriage

I don't doubt that many of them do think that way. I guess the thing that I see with that is that, given the way that the US is set up, unless something drastically changes in the legislation, I don't see the federal government compelling churches to wed homosexual couples against their will. Granted, if you're in a situation like Denmark, then such a thing is possible. But we're not. Just look at the shitstorm that came when Obama tried to enact legislation that would require Catholic institutions. So I guess I just see less of a risk to that. Of course, I could be wrong, but that's where I've landed.

To hear advocates talk, the fight is that 'Two people love each other and YOU CAN'T STAND THAT'.

And that you "hate" homosexuals if you don't think that their actions are morally praiseworthy, or disagree with their agenda. And, I hasten to add, the agenda of the activists almost certainly doesn't match up with that of the majority of homosexuals. Some of it, maybe, but I have a hard time believing that GLBT people are that shrill and demanding.

Crude said...

I guess the thing that I see with that is that, given the way that the US is set up, unless something drastically changes in the legislation, I don't see the federal government compelling churches to wed homosexual couples against their will.

Not for lack of effort. And keep in mind, it only took ten years or so for gay marriage to go from 'pipe dream' to 'legislative reality in some states'. Do you really think the sort of people who have made these social issues an obsession with themselves will just fall back and go 'Okay, we've gotten this far... but compelling churches, directly or indirectly, to recognize gay marriage would be an abuse of power.'? If gay marriage was a legal reality in all fifty states, do you think the attitude would be 'Well, that's it, we don't have to worry about these major social institutions (and remember, that's all they are to some people) disagreeing with us?'

I mean, the Obama legislation bit is just part of this. A decade ago you could have said that what he was trying to pass was unthinkable in this country given legislative reality. Now? Half the country gets pissed. And half of it is either apathetic or, frankly, thrilled at the prospect of forcing The Enemy to violate their principles. Another good one: gay adoption. Surely we'll never hit a point where religious adoption agencies have to close down because otherwise they'd be forced to assist gay couples in adopting children, right?

Hell, look at the Chik-fil-a thing. You had politicians openly stating that they were going to use their power to keep these restaurants out of their cities - and that was merely the explicit use of the power, to say nothing of the more covert.

And, I hasten to add, the agenda of the activists almost certainly doesn't match up with that of the majority of homosexuals. Some of it, maybe, but I have a hard time believing that GLBT people are that shrill and demanding.

Why? I mean, sure, not 'all'. Absolutes don't work. But 'most', at least of people who explicitly identify as 'an LGBT person' or such? Show me where the LGBT person is who, say, opposes gay marriage and thinks civil unions are more appropriate, and I will show you a lone voice in the wilderness.

Syllabus said...

Do you really think the sort of people who have made these social issues an obsession with themselves will just fall back and go 'Okay, we've gotten this far... but compelling churches, directly or indirectly, to recognize gay marriage would be an abuse of power.'? If gay marriage was a legal reality in all fifty states, do you think the attitude would be 'Well, that's it, we don't have to worry about these major social institutions (and remember, that's all they are to some people) disagreeing with us?'

It's not so much that I think they wouldn't say or think something along the lines of, "Let's force them to recognize our way of life" or whatever. It's a question of what can and cannot be done. Do GLBT activists want the Church - in the general sense - to recognize their lifestyle? Some probably do, and many probably don't give a rip one way or another. Would they mandate recognition if they could? I think they would. Could they? No, I don't see how that could happen given the political makeup of the US. Now, if something were to drastically change about that, then I would indeed be worried. And, I admit, some trends are somewhat worrisome. But I think - and this is my own, non-expert opinion - that the Church - again, in the broader sense - has far more to fear internally than externally.

Take the gay marriage thing. Which has worked better: passing legislation that requires the recognition of gay unions by religious institutions, or changing the vox popoli within those institutions to where they will change without "external" pressure? I tend to agree with St. Paul on this one, where he says something to the effect of "what have I to do with those outside the Church? God will judge them" and then goes on to detail what the Church ought to look like. That doesn't mean that the other is less important, or that we should entirely disengage from those who aren't Christians, only that internal matters can be more serious than external ones, so to speak.

In any case, though, I agree with your mistrust of the activist segment of the Left. I may just, I don't know, rank the priorities differently.

Crude said...

Could they? No, I don't see how that could happen given the political makeup of the US.

I understand what you're saying, but oddly enough part of what you're saying really seems to work into the logic of what I'm outlining here. You say that the problem isn't the law, it's the populace. I agree. The problem is that in the case of civil unions, changing the law is just another step towards changing the populace.

As I said: who wants civil unions among LGBT activists? Who says 'civil unions is what we should have, not marriage'? No one, because the only point of civil unions is to pave the way for marriage. Not just legally, but socially. And when that's the goal, then it becomes a mistake to try and judge the entire thing as a purely legal issue with social considerations put aside.

Not to mention, just what qualifies as 'the church, internally'? I know this administration has tried to define 'the church' as 'That specific building where you go to mass on Sunday', and everything else - charity, adoption agencies, education, businesses, etc - as Secular Land, where religious sensibilities are utterly forbidden to play a role in the operation. I disagree with that, strongly.

So yeah, I agree to a point that the internal problems are more salient than external. I just don't think they're sealed off.

Syllabus said...

Not to mention, just what qualifies as 'the church, internally'?

As I'm saying it, I mean Christians, or the body of believers, or whatever. I mean that community which has placed itself under the lordship of Christ.

I know this administration has tried to define 'the church' as 'That specific building where you go to mass on Sunday', and everything else - charity, adoption agencies, education, businesses, etc - as Secular Land, where religious sensibilities are utterly forbidden to play a role in the operation. I disagree with that, strongly.

I certainly am right with you on the "utterly forbidden to play a role" part. That's simply unfeasible, as it requires those who are religious to leave that which is most important to them outside the door. This seems gravely unfair. Would you ask a man to leave his masculinity, or a woman her femininity, outside the door of political dialogue? Obviously not. I think the model to be followed is not absolute neutrality - but only for the religious, interestingly enough - but reasoned compromise and disagreement among equals. It may not be how everyone sees it, but I can only make sure that I act correctly.

Crude said...

I'm not exactly sure how masculinity or femininity compares, actually. I'm sure you mean something reasonable, I just can't immediately discern it at the moment.

I suppose part of the problem is that the people arguing the 'religion is confined to a church and should never play a role in secular life, which happens to be everything else' line will insist theirs is a 'reasoned compromise'. After all, they didn't eradicate the church yet, now did they?

That's the problem. Reasoned compromise only exists when two sides have common ground. Without it, you don't have a compromise. You have a practical ceasefire born out of a strategic realization that, at this very moment, you can't eliminate your opposition - so this may be a way to buy time.

Syllabus said...

I'm not exactly sure how masculinity or femininity compares, actually. I'm sure you mean something reasonable, I just can't immediately discern it at the moment.

It's possible that I could have used a better analogy, or worded it better. What I mean is that you can't expect people to leave something that is such a huge part
of their being outside the door. I don't mean a man or a woman leaving their sex behind in the biological sense. Rather, I mean leaving behind the mental and cognitive distinctives, opinions and perspectives that they have by virtue of having grown up a certain way and having lived a certain kind of life. Likewise,asking the devout Catholic or the devout Buddhist or whatever to leave behind the special distinctives that their position grants them seems rather silly. In a pluralistic democracy, these distinctives should be regarded as useful, not as threatening. (And yeah, the analogy between religion and gender is problematic and only goes so far, in that one - usually - doesn't have a say in their gender, but one does have a say in ones religion. The only comparison that I was drawing between the two is that both have deeply ingrained positions and mindsets that shape how they see the world, and that asking them to discard these seems to be unfair. It's the one I thought of at the moment, and there may be better ones out there. Hope that makes it clearer.)

That's the problem. Reasoned compromise only exists when two sides have common ground. Without it, you don't have a compromise.

Agreed. And this needs to be fixed.

Syllabus said...

A late addendum: it seems to me that it might be useful, either in the combox or in a blog post or whatever, to address precisely what you mean by "liberal" Christian, since it can mean some very different things. A liberal Christian in the theological sense, for instance, is quite a different animal from a liberal Christian in the socio-political sense. There is a certain amount of overlap, sure, but the two aren't coterminous. I assume that you've been using the word in the socio-political sense, and I've been using it in the same sense, but still. Definitions and all that.

Crude said...

I mean whatever Victor Reppert had to have had in mind when he linked to the 'Christian Left' site.

That site claims to define the Christian Left. I pointed out, if it does so, it should horrify a lot of the Christians I know who think of themselves as liberals.