My religion has no name

June 11, 2006

On the Ship, someone, defining theological ‘liberalism’, said “I could not subscribe to the underlying concepts of liberalism – the autonomy of the subject and the innate goodness of humankind”.

Well, I guess that rules me out, then, since I don’t believe in the innate goodness of humankind (anymore than I believe in the total depravity of humankind).

The word ‘liberal’ is one of so many meanings that it’s pretty useless as an indicator of religious belief. It confuses theology with politics (and can’t even get that right – a Liberal Party voter in Australia is a conservative, while a liberal in the US would vote for the Democrats). It has serious baggage, as the quote above shows (q.v. ‘Christian’). Someone self identifying as liberal Christian may believe that Mary was a Virgin Mother and vote Green, or deny that the resurrection was a physical event and vote Tory.

It never was a word worth fighting for anyway.

I’ll argue with those who would restrict the word “Christian” because excluding someone from that label carries implications both as to their salvation and standing with God, and also implications as to what God is like, and what Jesus was like; and it’s important to me that we get that stuff right.

But ‘liberal’? Who cares.

As far as I can see the term mainly exists so that people can lump me, you, Jack Spong, and the kitchen sink in one category, then accuse us of being indecisive and not being able to articulate clearly what we believe.

Any obvious replacements? Spongites and Borgophiles at the Centre for Progressive Christianity have laid dibbs on the word “Progressive”. Urg. It’s got all the defects of ‘liberal’ and then some – it even more strongly identifies itself with left-wing politics, as well as the failed Victorian belief in Inevitable Progress Without Setbacks that got beaten up and then shot on the Somme.

So what then?

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2 Responses to “My religion has no name”

  1. dave marshall Says:

    Someone asked me recently if I was a Christian. I said I leave that for others to decide. But they were looking for a label for where I was, so I told them I was a communicant member of the Church of England (it was a church event). They seemed OK with that.

    So perhaps a solution is to use our real-world connections (rather than abstract categories) to label ourselves when the need arises.


  2. I wonder if the adjective “open” might work as a modifier for “christians” of our stripe. We have open minds, hearts, arms (to embrace all) and hands (to serve – not closed fist to fight). Jim Burklo’s “Open Christianity: Home by Another Road” is a good read and I use it instead of Borg or Spong to introduce inquirers to a Christianity that not obsessed with getting it right in order to be OK with God. It seems to me that most religions including Christianity are fear based. Universalism says that the most proper response to the all inclusive grace of God is to celebrate in such a way as to exclude no one. Is it time to reinstate the agape feast as the central feature of Christian gatherings? The committed provide the meal for everyone they can cajole into attending. The participants are fed and entertained not proseltized. When anyone asks why we are doing this only then do we testify as to the amazing grace of God that blesses without distinction.


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