Thursday, October 22, 2015

8 points of Progressive Christianity

This one flew by my virtual desktop the other day. I don't remember whence it came. It sounds nice at first glance, and you know there is a “but” coming after that, don't you? By time you get to the bottom, it sounds like all the good peace and harmony things in one tidy list. They didn't even try to force it to 10 items. Kudos.

I'll start at the bottom, where all those nice things are.

Items 4 through 8 are just basic human dignities. No society can survive for long without them. Even a repressive regime tells people they have these rights. George W Bush said he only choose war because that's what he needed to do to achieve peace. The language may lean toward the “liberal” end of the spectrum, such as “restore the integrity of our Earth”, but even those who claim dominion over the earth will usually say they are stewards.

I'll give a few extra points for item 5, “search for understanding” and valuing questions. Not everybody gets the importance of that. Of course saying that is different than actually responding to a question that challenges your world view in a truly open minded and respectful manner. But I don't need to get into the problems of implementing the list.

Moving up to item 3, atheists are not included. Probably because it implies an end to all of that questioning. You could say that's true, but only for religious questions. Atheists of course continue to ask all the questions that everyone else does, like why are we here, what's right, what's good, and what's for breakfast. I have enjoyed spending time in awe and wonder with people who had no idea I didn't believe in their god. Atheism leaves wonder and openness intact while concluding that enough work has been done on all existing theories of Christianity.

I’m not interested in a church that accepts atheists anyway. I’m interested in a community that accepts everyone for who they are. This doesn’t mean anything goes. It means whatever the community is organizing to do, it’s rules about who can join in are related to reaching that goal. Churches have goals and committees and functions, but if you want in, you have to pledge allegiance to a character in a book. You have to say you believe that things in that story are true. Most people do it without their heart really being in it, but if someone comes along and questions what’s in their heart, the wagons begin circle very quickly.

At least that's how it is for me, maybe they had some other atheists in mind when they left them off, and the item does say “ALL”, so that's nice.

Now I need to jump up to Item #1 because #2 doesn't make sense without it. This list starts with the same old barrier that has been around since the beginning, “believeth in me”. I realize that without that, there's no point in having this be about Christianity, but with it, why call it “progressive”? If you want an open community like you say in #3 that accomplishes the things in 4 through 8, why not just say you are a progressive “org” and then say something about welcoming faith traditions if you want. It would really simplify things.

In Item #2, it's almost apologizing for #1. After saying Jesus is the path to the Sacred and Oneness and Unity, it says that there are other ways to get there too. This one also has implementation problems. Just where can you go for this other wisdom? I went to a church that had a Ojibwa pipe ceremony in the basement once, Sufi dancing now and then on a Saturday night, and read from the Tao Te Ching every Sunday. But that was about it. And that's the most progressive church I've ever heard of. Even Unitarians tend to stick to Western Christian ideas.

The general feel I get from this list is, you’re fine with me choosing any belief system, but heaven forbid I choose a system that isn’t based on beliefs at all. Back when I taught Sunday School, I put a poster up in my class that had 15 different versions of what Christians call “The Golden Rule” from a variety of faith traditions, and Confucius, who made no supernatural claim. I've never seen that poster in any other church. I've seen high ranking religious leaders who were unaware that there were other versions. And something like that is not really much of a stretch. I can't imagine an adult Sunday School bringing Hume to their discussion on ethics or Sam Harris to their discussion of free will.

The question not addressed in this list is, what are you trying to accomplish? Is it the stuff in the second half or is making a statement about being inclusive as in 2 and 3 important, or is it all about Jesus and the Sacred and Oneness? Just what those capitalized words mean is a problem for me. It seems when I ask that question, they lead to the other points, so why not just dump the first 3? It would be much easier to understand if you just said you were a group of people that wanted to save the world. That's enough to set you apart.

The only honest answer, the only reason I can see to why you would start off with a belief statement, is that you think that is of primary importance. Nothing else here explains why that is important, and no church I've ever been to or theology I've ever heard of does anything but make that as an assertion. It is simply stated that Jesus leads to these things and the only way to find out is to try it for yourself. If you don't get it, you're doing it wrong and you're not in the club. I don't see what is so progressive about that.

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