Thursday, March 13, 2008

More on Progressive Religion

3/13/2008--I had no idea of all the reaction that writing about progressive religion would cause. My blog post of Friday, 3/7, on that subject attracted the attention of a well-informed and established blog by Mystical Seeker ( He was critical of my view of progressive religion as a failure and he denied the necessary centrality of a literal resurrection, for example, to Christian faith.

He and I, and others, had some back and forth on this and related issues. As you would expect, some people suggested that there were limits on how far one could go reinterpreting the Christian message and yet remain a Christian.

On Saturday, March 8, this exchange was picked up by Thurman Hart on his Xpatriated Texan blog of faith and politics. ( I found these comments also well-informed and worth pondering, although I cannot figure out how to respond by comment on his blog. On Monday, Hart posted another entry, this time concerning the critical responses to Mystical Seeker’s Sunday blog--responses that seemed aimed to ride progressive reinterpretation of scripture right out of town.

Meanwhile, Mystical Seeker, whose name I don’t know, had an exchange with me on Monday night. I wrote on the blog:

“The question related to whether one is still a Christian became so problematic for me that I felt I had to leave Judaism. But…this did not lead me away from the biblical tradition and into a vague spirituality or simple atheism. Can one be a biblical non-believer? I think so. Hence Hallowed Secularism. This position may be closer to the young, who have never learned the Christian or Jewish practice and story.”

Mystical Seeker responded: “I can see where people who were not brought up as Jews or Christians may be less likely to be drawn to any kind of progressive form of faith, and may not see the point of getting involved in internecine squabbles over what constitutes "legitimate" Judaism or Christianity. I can thus see where your concept of Hallowed Secularism might have a better appeal for people in those circumstances. My own attraction to progressive Christianity has a lot to do with my Christian upbringing--I find myself drawn to Christian traditions and am engaged in an effort to try to make it somehow work, although to be honest it has not always been a completely satisfying exercise. If I had not been brought up as a Christian, my story might have turned out quite differently.”

I am left with the strong impression that leaving Judaism was, for me, a necessary but painful step. One must pray and worship with a full heart and a total commitment. Constant reinterpretation is not conducive to such whole-heartedness. So, I had to leave even if others feel they can stay in their traditions.

But then where is the Hallowed Secularist? There is no such community. There is no such ritual. There really isn’t any such movement. Hallowed Secularism right now is a form of exile. But this exile is necessary because pretending to be a Jew while denying most of what almost all Jews have believed feels like bad faith. And, if something new in religion for a secular future is really needed, it is probably something more radical than a mere reinterpretation of our previous traditions.


  1. So, I had to leave even if others feel they can stay in their traditions.

    I am a strong believer that people need to choose the path that works best for them.

    Not everyone finds it satisfying to try to work with a tradition, even one they were born with, if they find its challenges insurmountable.

  2. It seems we're all having comment trouble. If this works, then your place is the only one that will let us all discuss things in one place - but there are advantages to cross-linking.

    I don't think you are alone as you might think. Since I don't know where you live, I can't say for sure, but the Ethical Society or the Ethical Humanist Society could be starting points to broaden the sense of community.

    It was necessary for me to leave three major denominations of Christian churches before I found a tradition that holds reason to be as great a yardstick as scripture and tradition. It's a difficult balancing act, and it is always easy to slip back into the mindless adherence to tradition.

    Moses Mendelsohn, if you remember, was actually thrown out of his Jewish congregation because he wanted to reconcile his religion with what he knew of the world around him. Martin Luther did the same within the Catholic Church, as did Calvin and the Wesley brothers. It would seem that there is a historical precedence for leaving the "church" (body of believers) in order to move them beyond the points at which they are stuck.

    Being a trailblazer can be lonely work, just don't make it any more so than it has to. And keep up the good work.

  3. Ok, I forgot to say that was me (Thurman) in the last comment.