Thursday, September 06, 2012

Where some churches go wrong

Here's a theory about why some churches have adopted a dissolving kind of Christianity, i.e. a kind of Christianity in which everything distinct about the human person dissolves, in which there are no particular identities, no particular loves or attachments, no standards of behaviour apart from an all-encompassing and abstracted love for the other.

The theory goes like this. Christianity is incompatible with liberal modernity in its insistence on substantive, objective goods. In the Christian world view there is a standard by which some acts are inherently morally right and others wrong.

For liberal moderns this aspect of Christianity can be threatening. It can seem to be an act of power over the individual will - a violation of the sovereign individual will. Liberal moderns generally prefer a morality of non-interference. The good is to self-determine our own subjective good and not to interfere with others doing the same. Hence the morality of non-interference: of not discriminating or judging; of showing tolerance and respect; of not being bigoted or prejudiced and so on.

(Yes, it's true that liberals can be highly intolerant in enforcing a morality of tolerance and highly intrusive in enforcing a morality of non-interference but that's an issue for another day.)

So what is a Christian to do? The best option would be to reject the assumptions of liberal modernity and hold to the Christian world view. But it is the liberal world view which dominates the modern world, the world in which Christians make a life for themselves. And perhaps inevitably some Christians have tried to reconcile or form a synthesis between Christianity and liberalism.

How can the two be reconciled? If liberalism demands that no substantive goods be asserted and that we focus on not interfering with or judging the actions of others, then a possible fall back position for Christians is to focus on an abstracted, all embracing love for the other. This can be justified readily by the command to love one another and if love is all then what do moral rights or wrongs or distinct human qualities or relationships count for?

Once a church takes that path then there is nothing to hold back a philosophical merger with political liberalism. Concepts and terms are freely borrowed from a liberal political philosophy, to the point that if you read the documents produced by some modern churches you get the sense that you are dealing with a liberalism with religion added on.

There do exist hindrances, though, to the success of a merged Christianity. It requires that people are willing to give up on the idea of objective moral standards (the new standards are those derived from liberal non-interference, e.g. respect, non-discrimination, anti-sexism etc). But that means that even one kind of moral standard can derail the process. What, for instance, if some members of a church can't give up on the idea that marriage should be between a man and a woman? That upsets the basis for the merger; you then get a church set apart and perhaps a schism somewhere down the line.

Love is all was not even an adequate basis for preserving a hippy movement let alone a church. A serious church will set love within a broader understanding of human life and the human soul. It will help to foster particular loves, affections and loyalties, as well as a larger (albeit more diffuse) concern for a wider humanity.

A church which is concerned for the fate of the individual human soul must also encourage a virtuous life, which then means asserting a positive concept of morality, one which goes beyond non-interference.


  1. My understanding of Christianity requires absolute truth and absolute morality, with God as our arbiter.

    I also believe God requires our individual assent to His will for our salvation.

    Some of the more liberal interpetations seem to adhere to a kind of group guilt and salvation, which seems ludicrous to me.

  2. Steffen: "Some of the more liberal interpetations seem to adhere to a kind of group guilt and salvation, which seems ludicrous to me."

    Caveat: I am not a Christian, and not qualified to tell Christians what their religion is.

    The idea of collective salvation makes sense, in general and in the Gospels. Jesus speaks of salvation and the opposite for entire cities. That would have meant collectives where everyone was more or less related. The Judaism Jesus knew was highly ethnocentric and focused on salvation for a single people.

    Nobody can survive only on the basis of the abstractions of theoretical liberalism, but that's not a problem for liberalism because it easily smuggles in substantial goods like "diversity". (In all White countries and only White countries; in other words anti-White is a liberal value.) There are goodies and baddies; some groups are selected for protection, and others for ruin.

    (Liberalism is not fairer than Christianity.)

    Modern Christian churches not only accept the vague pink cloud of abstract liberalized "love" but in practice they accept liberalism's list of born winners and losers, and its list of substantial goods "under the table".

    In doing so they betray into ruin the populations that have traditionally been Christian. (Of course they also betray themselves, as Christianity itself is a liberal "baddie".)

    One reason Hernando Cortez was able to destroy a great civilization of Indians, the Aztecs, was that the Aztec priests took his arrival as the return of Quetzalcoatl. We can imagine how demoralizing this must have been for Aztecs trying to defend their race and civilization, because we can see something similar happening today.

    If you speak out publicly against mass immigration, multiculturalism, integration and assimilation, you are sure to have the churches against you. This must make it harder for people to speak up.

  3. Modern Christian churches not only accept the vague pink cloud of abstract liberalized "love" but in practice they accept liberalism's list of born winners and losers, and its list of substantial goods "under the table".

    Well, there are certainly churches like that, and there are developing currents of thought within other churches like that.

    Not only is it unjust to some groups of people, but as I attempted to explain in the post, if that current of thought becomes dominant then it sets up a church for schism, or for a paralysing, irreconcilable setting apart of its members, because any one assertion of a traditional moral good becomes highly problematic to the liberal/Christian synthesis.

    Here's something else I could have put in the post. You might think that Christianity would become more acceptable to the dominant secular liberalism the more that Christianity attempts this synthesis.

    But if anything the opposite seems to be the case. In England, for instance, even the Conservative Party is attempting to sideline the public expression of Christianity.

    Again, the problem seems to be that secular liberals still associate Christianity with a morality that is based on something more than non-interference - despite the way that Christianity has shifted.

    Perhaps it's that Christianity *symbolises* something that makes liberals uncomfortable or angry even if the modern mainline churches don't practise it much anymore or attempt to replace it with "the vague pink cloud of abstracted liberalized love".

  4. "Modern" Christian churches (in the sense of churches that sell out to liberalism) never get paid when they sell out. Individuals can get good publicity, for example Bishop Spong always got lots of media attention when he would vex the faithful each Easter. But the churches as institutions, never.

  5. 'I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently I assumed that it had none and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption.... For myself as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation ... liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.... There was one admirably simple method in our political and erotic revolt: We could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.'
    Aldous Huxley

    It is an objective morality and accountability to a Creator that twist liberal knickers, nothing more and nothing less. God and His laws stand in the way of people doing exactly what they want without conscience.

    Huxley wanted to be a slut (man-slut if you prefer) but the morality of the time interfered with his sexual freedom. So, instead of curtailing his appetites, he decided there was no God and no higher meaning to life. Sound familiar?


  6. "Liberal moderns generally prefer a morality of non-interference."

    That's why liberalism is aggressively interfering in every aspect of our political, social, economic, cultural, and personal lives?

    They're not just demanding that everyone tolerate things and not interfere with things; they are making imperative demands that we act and think in accordance with their crazed ideas of what is right. We cannot merely not judge others; we MUST judge them harshly if they are racists, misogynists, homophobes, etc.

    "perhaps inevitably some Christians have tried to reconcile or form a synthesis between Christianity and liberalism."

    The ultimate expression of this is unitarianism. It is a worthless waste of time. It is not liberalism with religion added on; it is an attempt to construct a religion without any reference to God.

  7. The only church about which I have some 'inside knowledge' is the Church of England - now a notoriously liberal institution. Just consider the Rowan Williams effect for a moment to get the general picture.

    I think the reasons for its liberal character - in the contemporary sense of the word liberal - are straightforward. Most if not all the Anglican hierarchy are drawn from the same social and educational background as politicians, high level bureaucrats, judges, journalists, university professors, and so on. These people all share very similar liberal assumptions, attitudes, and opinions. They learned them together in their formative years at college and university.

    So it's inevitable that the Church of England is a beacon of liberalism. At this very minute many Anglican prelates of the future are absorbing the standard liberal line on everything from the causes of poverty to 'gay marriage'.

    A pervasive challenge to liberalism in the Christian churches and elesewhere must await the time when 'reactionaries' get control of the academic world. And that's not going to happen any time soon.

  8. Mark,

    "Perhaps it's that Christianity *symbolises* something that makes liberals uncomfortable or angry even if the modern mainline churches don't practise it much anymore or attempt to replace it with "the vague pink cloud of abstracted liberalized love".."

    As an Englishman, I can tell you that in UK its not Christianity specifically that secularists hate, but all religions. Why, because they associate religion with all war and strifes in the world (past and present), and the troubles in Northern Ireland that UK has witnessed for last 100 years only reinforces their view.

    Its strange that they don't see the great lost of life in 20th century wars associated with replacement of Christianity with other ideoligies (Communism, National socialism).

    Anyway,even if the Anglican church becomes overtly liberal, if it maintains its religious element it will always be vilified in the UK

    Great blog site by the way, I read every new artlicle

  9. In the United States the anti-Christian movement was overtly anti-Christian from the 1760s until about 1830. After that a great many liberals (that's what they called themselves) made a sort of treacherous peace with the church. They saw that direct attacks tended to alienate the marginal Christians, who were their prospective recruits, and they saw that Christian organization and symbols could be put to work advancing the liberal agenda. The result, evident by the 1850s, was "liberal Christianity," which is to say liberals using Christian organization and symbols to advance liberalism.

    As you say, the result is always schism of the sort now occurring among Episcopalians and Lutherans and Presbyterians. Back in the 1850s the wedge issue was, of course, slavery, today it is homosexuality. In the first case, liberal Christianity had a problem because the Bible did not clearly condemn something they hated, in the second because the Bible did clearly condemn something they approved.

    When the agenda of liberal Christianity is contradicted by scripture and tradition, liberal Christianity emits what one commenter above calls the great "pink cloud" of babble about abstract love. It's a smoke screen, a diversionary tactic. The congregation, momentarily aroused by a whiff of heresy, falls comfortably back to sleep, falsely assured that it's sitting in a Christian church.

  10. All encompassing "love" which dissolves God and men into homogenized mush isn't Christianity. In true Christianity love and law are inseparable, and the law makes distinctions.

    A good example is Romans 13, where the Apostle Paul states that love for God and neighbor involves following the Ten Commandments.

    To love God, you recognize His holiness which places Him above you. To love neighbors, you recognize the boundaries of kinship and property, i.e, honoring parents and spouses; and refraining from theft and envy. In the latter cases, strong fences indeed make good neighbors.

    Recognizing boundaries and distinctions is, of course, anathema to liberals, but it's the proper perspective of Christianity.

  11. Scott, thanks.

    Southron, that's a very helpful way of putting it.