Friday, September 12, 2008

Liberal Christians

This might seem strange coming from an avowed atheist, but I really do feel a sort of kinship with liberal Christians. Unlike their conservative or fundamentalist brethren, liberal Christians do not advocate rejecting reason and science in deference to faith and don't try to force their beliefs on others. To the contrary, they are often in the same trenches as us atheists, fighting for religious freedom and sharply opposing religious extremism and violence. They try very hard to meld Christianity with secularism, human rights, and religious pluralism. Liberal Christians and atheists tend to agree on many social issues, and only differ significantly on religious matters.

But oh what a difference it is! Criticisms abound: that liberal Christians provide cover for fundamentalism by praising and defending the concept of faith, that they often decry legitimate criticism of religion and religious practices as "intolerance", thereby protecting it from being confronted, and that they cherrypick the Bible while simultaneously calling it the word of God. Also, it's not uncommon to notice an atheist suggest that since liberal Christians take much of the Bible figuratively, it suggests that they don't truly believe in the Bible.

However well intentioned they may be, I of course am relatively certain that liberal Christians' religious views are wrong. And however level-headed they may be on all other topics, they still ultimately believe a lot of superstitions and absurdities, like God, miracles, and the afterlife. My main objection to their views is that they try to update superstitious stuff, stuff that didn't even fare well to a skeptical eye in its own time, and bring it into the 21st century as a reasonable belief. And such things involve a torturous reworking of beliefs (hell isn't really hell, Eden wasn't really Eden, and Jesus was a liberal) and redefinition of terms (Christian means being Christ-like, therefore many non-Christians are Christians). I've seen one person say that God is love, so believing in love is the same thing as believing in God. Or that whatever one believes is bigger than oneself is that person's God.

And honestly, it's somewhat unnerving to see otherwise brilliant people's brains turn to mush when the subject of religion comes up. For example, Francis Collins, a geneticist who allegedly saw a frozen waterfall which convinced him of God's existence.

But, for good or bad, these people make up a large portion of the general public. And since they oppose fundamentalist attacks on both science and secular governance just as much as atheists do, we really ought to keep working together for the common good, because honestly, neither group would be able to stop fundamentalism alone.

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