Long time no see, eh?
One of the things which has been on my mind lately is that big word, vocation, and that significantly more boring word, career – to the point where writing anything has been hard, since I can’t shake the idea that anytime I take pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), I need to be consciously honing my talent for a particular use. Do I return to my pre-university stabs at fiction? Immerse myself in scholarly work in preparation for higher levels of academia? Make snarky comments about the socio-political landscape in the hopes that someday I might be an op-ed columnist? I feel pulled in too many directions and wind up doing nothing. Hence the rather silent last couple of weeks.
Anyhow, Ross Douthat recently penned an article entitled, Can Liberal Christianity be Saved? (the implication is no). He makes the point that,
What should be wished for, instead, is that liberal Christianity recovers a religious reason for its own existence. As the liberal Protestant scholar Gary Dorrien has pointed out, the Christianity that animated causes such as the Social Gospel and the civil rights movement was much more dogmatic than present-day liberal faith. Its leaders had a “deep grounding in Bible study, family devotions, personal prayer and worship.” They argued for progressive reform in the context of “a personal transcendent God … the divinity of Christ, the need of personal redemption and the importance of Christian missions.”
Today, by contrast, the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism. Which suggests that per haps they should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world.
In other words, liberal Christianity needs some orthodoxy. I think it’s difficult to pull back without pulling all the way back. Christianity offers an alternative to the way of the world. But if we decide that we’re willing to compromise with the political authorities over, say, the morality of divorce, then there’s no reason in principle why you cannot compromise over anything else that happens to be popular. The irony is that liberal versions of the Abrahamic faiths become what leftists like to accuse orthodox religion of being: a sort of divine sanction on the current status quo, the prevailing norms.
Now I’m including attempts to bend orthodoxy to right-wing purposes in here as well. In both cases, there’s a fatal compromise with the ways of the world. It might not be instantaneous, but over time the worship of God we thought we had is replaced by a worship of ourselves, and the distinction between Christian and pagan becomes an aesthetic one.
Of course, there is also the risk of being standoffish and retreating from the rest of the world, giving it up as a lost cause. No; we’ve been given just the armor we need to survive on the front-line, to handle serpents and live. I’m still not sure what that means for me in the long run.