Monday, March 31, 2008

What's Wrong with Progressive Religion?

3/31/2008--When I wrote my manuscript, Hallowed Secularism, I did not pay much attention to progressive religion. I just assumed that everyone is basically stuck, as I was, between unbelievable institutional religion and secularism. I knew the theological and historical work of Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong, and others, but I could not see any of this shaping life in the pews. Because I had never been a Christian, I did not look seriously into Progressive Christianity.

I have since discovered through progressive blogs such as Find and Ye Shall Seek and XPatriated Texan that people are attempting to do what I considered to be impossible.

[In some future entry, I will have to deal with the gap between Progressive Christianity and Progressive Judaism. It seems to me that the latter is far less theologically sophisticated, and thus less likely to be helpful, than the former.]

One important recent progressive religion book, which argues for a radical reinterpretation of Christianity, is “With or Without God, Why The Way We Live Is More Important Than What We Believe” by Reverend Gretta Vosper. She is the minister of West Hill United Church in Scarborough, Canada and the founder and Chair of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity. According to the book’s description, Vosper writes that the emphasis of Christians needs to be not on God or Jesus, but on compassionate and just living. This theme is reminiscent of the Unitarian Univeralist Church around the corner from me in Pittsburgh: Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, which emphasizes social justice in its ministry.

I look forward to reading the book (although it is curiously difficult to find in the U.S.). But I come to the book skeptical of the theme in its title—that how we live is more important than what we believe. I have been trying in recent years to figure out what I believe. This is very important to me. The de-emphasis on such matters in books like this one, and more generally the distaste for theology in progressive religion, creates a strange anti-intellectualism. And I think this comes from a reluctance to admit just how far from traditional Christian understanding people have moved.

In addition to my hunger for thinking, I distrust justice, which seems foundational to progressive religion. And I distrust politics, although I engage in it. I don’t want justice for myself because I am a sinner. I want grace and generosity instead. And policy—politics--in a fallen world is always compromise. What your political opponents say is always partly right.

What was Jesus’ greatest teaching? Maybe himself, which Progressive Christianity has a hard time with. Aside from that, Jesus’ greatest teaching has to be the parable of the Prodigal Son. Progressive religion reminds me too much of the elder brother in that parable.

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