Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What do you think the term "religious liberal" means?

A short online article recently made me curious. How many people are accepting/promulgating the notion put out by some irreligious folks that “moderate” or “liberal” religion somehow means “religion lite”? That is, not taking it (or certain parts of it) as seriously? Watering it down by getting rid of certain elements (the miraculous, etc)? For those who wish to discuss and defend liberal religion, it would help to more clearly define or describe what they think that is.

For example, if someone believes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, participates in Communion/the Eucharist, etc, and has what would be considered “progressive” views on gay marriage, women as priests, etc, does that make such a person a religious liberal or moderate? A religious conservative with liberal political views? Something else? If you just want to go feel good about community and social justice on Sundays without all that “God nonsense” but you are against publicly funded health care and are pro-life, are you a religious liberal with conservative political views? Something else?

Even if we leave out conventional political issues, which beliefs or affirmations count you toward being conservative or liberal? For example, there is room in theology for a view of God that simultaneously transcendent and immanent, ineffable yet personal, source and sustainer of existence. This is rooted in religious tradition going back thousands of years, so it is liberal, moderate or conservative? There is a longstanding acknowledgment in Christology that the resurrection is a mystery. If someone believes Jesus was an embodiment of Wisdom who in some fashion rose from the dead and went back to the Heart of creation, the Source from which of existence rises and falls in a perpetual cycle, that may sound to some a bit Eastern — perhaps Taoist or Buddhist. So is that liberal, moderate, or conservative?

Is liberal in religious terms really just code for being critical and not too committed to any particular view unlike those poor dogmatists? Or not being to committed to only certain kinds of views? Or not being too traditional? Or is it something else? Some of the people often cited as being from the liberal/progressive religious camp were/are firmly committed to things like the resurrection of Christ, the existence of a personal God, etc, so it would help to know how it is you think they all fit together. I ask because one can’t expect atheists or religious conservatives to respect or listen to liberal religious people or ideas if it isn’t clear who or what qualifies and why.

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