Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Liberal Christianity: Big on fascism, light on Christianity

Just had a little foray into the world of James F. McGrath - one of those 'progressive christians' whose Christianity seems largely to consist of attacking the dreaded 'conservative Christians' and cozying up to atheist. His post about gay marriage was what drew me in.

Straightaway - his opening image with 'NO COLOREDS ALLOWED' and 'JUDEN VERBOTEN', juxtaposed with a sign reading 'NO GAYS ALLOWED'? Yeah, the 'No Gays Allowed' sign was apparently brought in by a politician to highlight what he insists the effect of the law in question is going to be. This, he cops to in the comments, not the original post - because it doesn't have quite as much punch if you mention it's a mock-up.

I've mucked about in the comments there - largely a dull crowd. Lots of 'you're a BIGOT!' responses, and expressions of incredulity that knowingly supplying tools or services for an act makes one complicit, however minorly, in the act. The most interesting argument was the one arguing that refusal to take part in 'same-sex marriage' may not be discrimination against someone due to their sexual orientation - I managed to bury that claim altogether - but it is 'sex discrimination' because technically a woman can marry someone a man can't marry and vice versa. That's a fatal move for a defender, as I noted, since A) sex discrimination of that variety is far, far more muddied (try to take a piss in a women's restroom as a male heterosexual, and tell me what judge will decide that's A-OK) and B) it gives away the store and concedes that the opposition to same-sex marriage doesn't even need an 'sexual orientation' component. If this were the intellectual group forced compliance with same-sex marriage were being fought on - or, hell, 'gay marriage' in general - the fight would probably be over. That kind of convoluted technicality reasoning doesn't have the emotional pull, not to mention intellectual pull, of 'You are a BIGOT and are HURTING someone just because of how they were BORN'.

McGrath mostly stayed quiet, save for +1ing everyone who disagreed with me - but he did wade in to say this:
I'm going to tackle this in a separate post, but if one of the caterers that wants to discriminate in this way also refuses service to Hindu weddings (others gods are invoked) and divorcees (in clear violation of Jesus' teaching), and specifies this up front in their publicity material, I would be far more sympathetic to their claim to have a genuine religious stance and objection. But are any of the companies in question actually systematically and consistently applying their religious texts' teachings in the way I suggested? Or are they invoking religion now as an ad hoc justification for their disgust and discrimination? In most cases it seems to clearly be the latter, and that just makes the use of religion in the service of discrimination all the more reprehensible.
And my reply:
Let me get this straight. You'd be sympathetic - but only if they agree with your interpretation of their own religious texts? So you're trying to pull out a win here on the technicality of 'Sure, if you object to gay marriage, I'm sympathetic to you not being forced by threat of state intervention and violence to you taking part in this gay marriage by baking the cake. But... only if you're following what I, James McGrath, thinks your religion teaches. And if you're not, then I'm going to determine you're insincere.' 
That's your defense? 
[...] 
Really? Please, provide evidence of this. 'In most cases it seems to clearly be the latter.' 
You just told me that none of the businesses involved deal with people who sincerely believe that same-sex marriage is wrong. Strangely, even the ones who said they are entirely willing to serve gays - they just don't want to take part in a gay marriage. 
But no, you're sure this isn't the case. Which is why you're entirely comfortable with legal bullying of people who just don't want to take part in gay weddings. If they refuse to bake a cake or take a photograph, you think the state should punish them, take their money, maybe even jail them. 
Because 'civil rights'. 
And you don't think this at all sounds a little like some good ol' New Testament pharisee thinking?
The funny thing is, McGrath is a 'progressive Christian', so if anyone's going to be under the gun for being hypocritical and inconsistent in their picking and choosing of Christian religious teachings, it's McGrath. But really, McGrath's concern here isn't consistency, intellectual or otherwise - much less fairness, giving the benefit of the doubt, or treating his Christian opponents as having sincere disagreement.

Nope. They're just bigots, period. And bigots must be hassled, harangued and, if necessary, driven out of the public sphere.

Now, I know various "liberal Christians". I have a few on my blogroll. I agree with them about many, various things, even if I have my disagreements. I believe in finding common ground with sincere Christians of different political and even religious views, and I reject some of the more short-tempered approaches (to put it mildly) that exists among some orthodox or conservative Christians.

But now and then, I see guys like James McGrath - whose role as a progressive Christian seems to be dehumanizing conservative Christians, chiding them, and (now) looking to the state and LGBT jackboots to erase them from the public square... and I have to admit, my blood runs cold. This is why I say that mutual respect, and some common ground, is needed for there to be any meaningful dialogue. With James McGrath, I see no mutual respect, and - despite both of us professing to be Christians - I see no common ground. And it's hard not to walk away with the impression that I am dealing with a man who calls himself Christian largely because he thinks that identification will aid him most in doing damage to those political and social groups and individuals he has a low opinion of.

I am supremely suspicious of any Christian who seems far more interested in attacking and 'converting' fellow Christians, with next to zero interest in convincing non-Christians to become Christians.

14 comments:

The Fez said...

The title of his post is precious.

"I Will Not Stand By Quietly While History Repeats Itself"

It was news to me that our friendly neighborhood baker used a waterhose to blast homosexuals out of his store and into the pansexual boxcar destined for the "gender-reorientation" camps.

Considered as a 1 to 1 historical approximation, it is painfully plain in its absurdity.

Individuals like James F. McGrath really do consider themselves to inhabit a rhetorical sphere akin to MLK. That the forces of injustice are so pronounced, and that the historicity of the moment is so thick that you could cut it with a knife.

Again, though. You'll need to show me more images of homosexuals fighting off attack dogs, and fewer images of techni-colored parade floats proudly strutting down Pennsylvania Ave.

Syllabus said...

Reminds of Tony Jones' post - more of a rant, really - about how it's necessary for Christians to, essentially, shun other Christians who don't agree with letting women serve in Church leadership. Similar level of theological sophistication and toleration of differences there, too. (Though I will say that, from what I've read of McGrath's blog, he's usually far less tendentious than that article makes him out to be.)

Crude said...

Syllabus,

I missed that one. Regarding McGrath, no, I don't think he behaves quite this way in most of his posts - but I do think that typically he just falls back to another, more smarmy brand of aggression towards Christians he dislikes.

Crude said...

Fez,

I also notice that McGrath has done what I once said I notice liberal Christians tend to do - he's gone and said explicitly 'If Jesus were here, he'd not only bake the cake, he'd attend the wedding!'

Though I disagree with one thing - I question the sincerity with which men like McGrath really believe they're doing the right thing. I think they believe they are being seen as doing the right thing, by the right people. Big difference.

The Deuce said...

Individuals like James F. McGrath really do consider themselves to inhabit a rhetorical sphere akin to MLK. That the forces of injustice are so pronounced, and that the historicity of the moment is so thick that you could cut it with a knife.

No, they don't *really* honestly believe that. It's too obviously and observably false and absurd on its face for them to really believe it.

They TELL themselves that over and over, to make themselves feel morally superior and whip themselves into a self-righteous frenzy, so they they can overcome their pangs of conscience as they carry out their totalitarian efforts to crush actual Christians for not getting on board with their ideology.

Acatus Bensley said...

Liberal Christians are basically saying they believe in God but don't think he condemns everything the bible (Word of God) says he condemns. It seems their interpretation of this book is determined by popular opinion. They also don't seem to be aware that the same arguments for gay marriage can be used for incestous marriage as well. I'm eager to see what will and won't be legal due to America's endorsement of moral relativism in the coming years.

Crude said...

You know, what really gets me here isn't the disagreement from liberal Christians. I disagree with Lothar, I disagree with Victor Reppert, I disagree with Randal Rauser, and others. But I also agree with them on some things, and when we disagree, there's at least usually an attempt to understand, reply, be respectful.

But guys like McGrath? There's just nothing there. There's just grandstanding and snarling and hate. And when he actually attempts to argue, it's just terrible and largely reduces to 'Well I bet you just are immoral and all your arguments are for show' on the spot.

Guys like that don't care about arguments, or reasoning. They care what others think of them, and that's about as far as it goes. Which is probably why McGrath's chosen method of response to people who disagree with him on issues like these is to keep playing on the 'we'll all think poorly of you!' line of reasoning - because that's the only thing he really understands.

Acatus Bensley said...

They care what others think of them. Exactly. Popular opinion. Excuse my disdain of liberal Christianity but it tends to breed some horrible people. They might as well be deist if they're gonna let their interpretation of what the bible says be determined by what's socially acceptable and socially unacceptable. I'm just concerned about their ulterior motives especially when they "cozy up to atheist". That doesn't seem like it could ever end well. I'm just thinking out loud here.

Acatus Bensley said...

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/02/gay-wedding-cake-discrimination.html

The Deuce said...

Acatus:
It seems their interpretation of this book is determined by popular opinion.

Indeed, I sometimes wonder what, exactly, is supposed make them liberal Christians as opposed to Buddhists or Muslims. Is it supposed to be because their complete disregard the Bible and the Church is more conspicuous than their complete disregard for the Koran and the Imams? Their worldview and moral compass is completely dictated by and identical to that of the secular, left-wing, materialist zeitgeist. Where they have any sort of contact with Scripture at all, it's not to use it as a source of moral authority, but merely so that they can force the values of the secular zeitgeist into it via post-modernist "interpretation" where possible and throw out the parts where it isn't.


Crude:
Which is probably why McGrath's chosen method of response to people who disagree with him on issues like these is to keep playing on the 'we'll all think poorly of you!' line of reasoning - because that's the only thing he really understands.

The other reason is that since the collectivist in-group approval of the left-wing zeitgeist is his sole source of moral authority (rather than, you know, God), it is also ultimately the only reason he has for why you're wrong.

"Because the latest iteration of the left-wing consensus says so" is ultimately the only basis he has for why anything is moral or immoral, so telling you that you're outside that consensus is really the best and only moral condemnation he has available to him.

Crude said...

Well, the conversation with McGrath is ongoing. (Hey there, James, if you've deigned to show up here.)

Now we're into the territory of 'Gosh, can't we disagree about this civilly?' You know, hot on the heels of equating people who oppose gay marriage with ****ing nazis in his own OP.

The Fez said...

No, they don't *really* honestly believe that. It's too obviously and observably false and absurd on its face for them to really believe it.

They TELL themselves that over and over, to make themselves feel morally superior and whip themselves into a self-righteous frenzy, so they they can overcome their pangs of conscience as they carry out their totalitarian efforts to crush actual Christians for not getting on board with their ideology.


Are we simply talking about the difference between what a person actually believes and what they force themselves to believe through some sort of mental inebriation?

In my own experience, even those people who claim to posses truly outrageous beliefs legitimately, and with certainty, hold those beliefs without any kind of guilty conscience. From the holocaust denier to the communist sympathizer, most of them take their views to be deadly serious.

Secondly, debate really can't even take place if you're skeptical as to whether or not a person legitimately believes a thing, or is simply 'faking it' with respect to their own mental states. Discussion can't even happen under these conditions. Well, it can, but its going to descend into a series of goofy exchanges in armchair psychoanalysis.

I mean, this is one of the issues Crude is having to deal with on McGrath's blog, right? He's not making a series of totally logical (and secular) statements about the immorality of a sexual act, he's using convenient reasoning to justify his 'selective bigotry' (which is, just, you know, adorable).

I give McGrath the benefit of the doubt. If he's using polemical language, I assume he's using it with a clean conscience. If he's talking about this or another side of history, I assume he's talking about the one where he's just like those valiant civil rights warriors of the 1960's, bravely lashing out against those who would victimize homosexuals.

It may be absurd, but plenty of people believe absurdities with thoughtless conviction.

Crude said...

Fez,

For my part, I think I've highlighted a series of problems in McGrath's reasoning, his emphasis, and so on. I think insincerity is bleeding through with a good portion of what he's saying.

Really, he implied that my arguments were invalid because I wrote his name as James P. McGrath at one point instead of James F. It's not the position he holds that makes me doubt his sincerity, but the way he goes about promoting and defending it in the face of a contrary opinion.

The Deuce said...

Fez:

In my own experience, even those people who claim to posses truly outrageous beliefs legitimately, and with certainty, hold those beliefs without any kind of guilty conscience. From the holocaust denier to the communist sympathizer, most of them take their views to be deadly serious.

Secondly, debate really can't even take place if you're skeptical as to whether or not a person legitimately believes a thing, or is simply 'faking it' with respect to their own mental states.


Debate can't really take place when you're dealing with someone who argues in bad faith anyhow. Let's take your example of Holocaust deniers. Do you think the typical Holocaust denier can be won over by pointing out facts? Do you think he is simply unaware of all the photos and eyewitness testimony of the Holocaust by tends of thousands of people? Do you think it's possible to have a reasonable, good-faith back and forth with such a person, in which you both honestly put forward the facts, state your premises, examine the implications, and so forth?

I say no. It's not simply that the Holocaust denier is ignorant, and may be persuaded if you inform him. Rather, he has a "narrative" to uphold as a member of his ideological herd, and the actual truth of things simply doesn't matter to him. His "belief" in the unreality of the Holocaust isn't a sincere belief that he came to, but rather a matter of him deliberately suppressing what he knows to be true in service of the herd's narrative. His belief is certainly "deadly serious," but it is not sincere.

If you go into debate with such a person, expecting to have a sincere back-and-forth following the rules of proper, charitable, good-faith dialogue between competing ideas, you will find yourself being rolled beneath an avalanche of sophistry, prevarication, emotional manipulation, dishonest rhetoric, and spurious personal attacks.

The trick is to understand when you're dealing with such a person, so that you can focus on exposing their intellectual dishonesty to onlooking 3rd parties instead of attempting the futile and being humiliated. That is the best service you can do to the truth in such a circumstance.

So I stand by what I said. McGrath doesn't "really" believe that he inhabits a rhetorical sphere akin to MLK, that the forces of injustice are so pronounced, and that the historicity of the moment is so thick that you could cut it with a knife. He believes it in a sense, but it's in the sense of someone who has suppressed the truth in service of a collectivist herd narrative that he's striving to uphold. His narrative *requires* orthodox Christians to be outright monsters, so that he can bully them and destroy their lives in totalitarian fashion with a feeling of moral superiority rather than the guilt that would normally be involved. That's what he's decided to believe, and he's not going to be talked out of it, or engage in a good-faith debate with those he's made into subhuman monsters beyond the pale.

Yes, that means genuine debate is impossible, but it's not the recognition of such that makes it so. I am merely saying that one should understand that genuine debate is impossible in such a situation, and approach accordingly if one wants to accomplish anything.