Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Why I Am Not A Liberal Christian

Last time around I discussed some of my reasons for believing that liberal Christians are closer to the truth than conservative ones are.  In this post I'd like to extend that theme, by honing in on my reasons for additionally rejecting liberal versions of the Christian faith.

In reading de-conversion stories, I've noticed that many formerly evangelical believers make something of a pit stop, if you will, in liberal Christianity.  Some of them (such as Bart Ehrman) even stay there for a number of years, before moving on to their ultimate destination; often agnosticism or atheism.  I suspect this pit stop happens in part because letting go of god is incredibly hard, especially when you've had a treasured "personal relationship with Jesus".  Also, conservative Christianity is relatively easy to disprove, most notably the variety that holds strongly to the inerrancy of the Bible, and the literal historicity of the Bible's various tall tales. Liberal Christianity, on the other hand, is much more difficult (if not downright impossible) to falsify.

Many of the things that atheists and agnostics rightly reject about the Bible, are rejected by liberal Christians too.  On one hand, this is what makes the option so attractive for those who grow disillusioned with evangelicalism.  At a certain point in the de-conversion journey, you inevitably find yourself yourself thinking thoughts like, "Hey, maybe I could just flush all of this bullshit, but still remain a Christian.  Wouldn't that be awesome!?!".  It seems, on the surface, to be an appealing compromise when you're feeling caught in the middle of two (diametrically opposed) worlds.

Having said that, I guess I am one of those atheists who just passed right by liberal Christianity. No pit stop for me.  I did seriously consider it, for a while, but I can't honestly say that I was ever really convinced by the arguments or rationale.

Without further ado, here are three of the primary reasons I rejected liberal Christianity...

Reason #1, I found no convincing reason to believe in liberal Christian theology

Frankly, I'm not sure that many liberal Christians *have* much of a theology (or perhaps some just don't view theology as being very important).  I realize they endorse moral action, but so do most atheists.  In fact, as I've discussed previously, I still heartily embrace many so called "Christian values" myself.  The difference, of course, is that I now do so for unambiguously secular reasons.

One (rather well known) liberal Christian, who shall remain nameless, told me in private correspondence, "I do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but I do find a lot of meaning in the symbol of of his resurrection".  My first reaction was, "whoa, that sounds pretty deep".  It was followed rather quickly though by my second reaction, namely, "what the hell does that mean exactly?".  It reminds me a lot of what Julia Sweeney says, in her "Letting Go Of God" monologue, regarding the suggestion that Jesus' resurrection is "psychologically true"...

"But what about other stories on the same theme?  I mean, what about Persephone going down into the under world...that's psychologically true too then, I suppose.  Or what about stories from the Iliad, or Darth Vader, or The Little Engine That Could...those are 'psychologically true' stories; aren't they??"

And therein lies the heart of the problem, as I see it, with liberal Christian theology.  They seem to find "meaning", all through the Bible, but it's unclear to me: a) what this meaning is, and b) how (or if) it is unique to the Bible.

This leads me to my second point...

Reason #2, I found no convincing reason to believe that god, if he/she/it exists, had anything whatsoever to do with the Bible

When atheists pick apart the Bible, they are very often accused of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  *Of course* the Bible is not inerrant, the liberal Christians will say; what thinking person would believe such a thing anyway?

Laying aside the fact that a large number of Christians do believe such a thing, the deeper issue (with the Bible) still remains unaddressed.  Once we can agree that it contains errors, historical inaccuracies, outright fabrications, and so on, the next question then centers on what reasons someone would have for believing that a god inspired its writing at the outset.  Please pay careful attention to my wording here.  Notice that I am not asking if the Christian God dictated the words to the Biblical authors verbatim.  I realize that liberal Christians acknowledge different (and even conflicting) perspectives within the canon.  No, what I am asking instead is what positive reasons there are for believing that the Christian God had ANYTHING to do with Bible.

Does someone want to take a shot at that one?

Typically the silence from liberal Christians, to this more nuanced question, is downright eerie.  It leads me to conclude that they simply don't have a good answer.  And, if god indeed had nothing to do with the Bible, there are an awful lot of people who should probably re-think orienting their entire lives around its instructions.

On a side note, as I see it, this is also the root problem with the various pro-gay & anti-gay arguments between Christians.  *It doesn't really matter what the Bible says, or doesn't say, about homosexuality, if there is no convincing reason to believe that the book is divinely inspired.*

Reason #3, I found no convincing reason to believe that god exists in the first place

It's important for me to clarify that I do not claim to know for certain that a god does not exist. This is a strikingly common misperception about atheists.  Most of us infidels have at least some level of agnosticism on that question.  Contrary to popular belief, a "no gods exist" assertion is not required (or even implied) by the term atheist.  I won't belabor the point here but, if you find that last sentence confusing, please read my post called "Atheist Or Agnostic?" for further clarification.

Simply put, at the end of the day, I strongly suspect that no gods exist at all.  And certainly not the sort of omni-god (such as Yahweh) who supposedly intervenes in the physical world.

Let me also be quick to point out, in conclusion, that I fully realize and acknowledge how ambiguous the term "liberal Christian" is generally.  This is why, in discussion with believers of a more liberal persuasion, I usually begin by trying to get a better handle on what exactly it is that they personally believe (about god, the Bible, and so on).  It is only afterward that I can get much of a sense for where specifically our disagreements lie, if we even have any.  For example, I know at least one liberal Christian who rejects nearly every major point of Christian theology, in so far as I can tell.  He doesn't believe that Jesus died for our sins, he doesn't believe in hell, or that Jesus was born of a virgin and performed miracles.  He even admits, when pressed, to also being agnostic about god's existence.  For him, to be Christian simply means to live his life with hope, or something like that, and to stand alongside those raised in the Christian tradition through the centuries.  But if that's all it takes, to be "Christian", than you might as well say that I am one too. At this level it seems to boil down to essentially a game of terminology semantics, or perhaps just a personal label preference thing.  Personally, I no longer felt comfortable in using the word Christian, to describe myself, once I lost faith in what I viewed to be the major tenants of the Christian religion (like those represented in the Apostles' Creed).

To my fellow de-converts; did you make a pit stop, in liberal Christianity, on your road to atheism? Why or why not?  And to the liberal Christians who read this; am I misunderstanding (or misrepresenting) your views?  If so, how?