Third Message, B:
The Ritschlian NCC Azgothians
Some people worry that liberal christianity is a thing of the past. Many academics wring their hands, mourning that this sole acceptable form of Christianity is being extinguished by the hegemony (that word has been used, mind you) of a vast conspiracy of conservatives, traditionalists, fundamentalists, and “restorationists.”
They have nothing to worry about. Liberal christianity is so large that it is no longer discernable as a group, because it is that ubiquitous. It is almost like a fish being unaware of the water. Liberal christianity is the default religion of the west: never mind the crappy church attendance in Europe, or the execrable level of religious affiliation of most American academics. Practical atheism is all part of liberal christianity: it is even encouraged.
Albrecht Ritschl “renovated” Christianity even more completely than did Schleiermacher, for the sake of their poor friends, the “cultured despisers of Christianity.” These were the people who could not, just could not, bring themselves to believe in Creation, or Salvation, or (God -- or whatever -- forbid) Sanctification. So Albrecht accommodated the querulous educated salon by removing, à la Jefferson’s “reasonable” gospel, all the seedy, outmoded elements. What was left, after a process oddly like deconstruction, was a text shorn of its laborious layers of superstition and Hellenic nonsense: liberal christianity was born as a culturally palatable religion that redefined religious knowledge as a subjective and personal theism, consisting of the making of ethical judgments.
No more obedience to transcendent authority. No more acknowledgment of anyone wiser than Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens. No more deference to the democracy of the dead.
Dogma is thus reduced to ethics. Even in the Eastern and Roman Church, there have been found committees (that strange vestibular concoction that is made just for the manufacture of modern ethics) who are doing the hamster-paddle of processing position papers, study guides and news releases.
The reduction switch is hit again: this time, ethics is rendered down, like dead horses, into political advocacy and jello.
The Azgothians, who subscribe to the Internet for a never-ending supply of poetry to suit their taste, are particularly fond of the product of the dizzy array of social and moral issues committees who are all rooted in the firm tradition of liberal christianity. Nowhere can you find a better motherlode for committee work like this than the National Council of Churches.
From the Executive Summary of Strange Yokefellows, the NCC was found to express these concerns in its public statements:
1. Immigration (in favor of a more liberal U.S. policy)
2. Campaign finance and lobbying (in favor of stricter federal regulations)
3. War in Iraq (against U.S. involvement)
4. Biotechnology (position ambiguous)
5. President Bush's State of the Union address (harshly critical)
6. Federal budget (opposed to Bush administration and congressional Republican proposals)
7. The United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (in favor)
8. Gulf Coast post-hurricane reconstruction (critical of the Bush administration)
9. Toxic chemicals in the environment (in favor of stricter federal regulation)
10. U.S. facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for detaining terrorism suspects (in favor of closing the facility)
11. Civil rights (in favor of affirmative action and other government initiatives to enforce racial and gender equality)
12. Darfur (in favor of more international pressure to stop the genocide there)
13. Teaching of evolution or alternative views in public schools (in favor of teaching evolution, opposed to teaching "intelligent design")
14. Minimum wage (in favor of a large increase)
15. No Child Left Behind Act (critical of federal and state implementation of the act, and skeptical of the act itself)
16. Allegations of systematic U.S. torture of detained terrorism suspects (lending credence to the allegations and favoring an end to all such practices)
17. Public education (defending the system against those who say it conflicts with Christian faith)
18. Restrictions on travel to and trade with Cuba (opposed)
19. HIV/AIDS (in favor of increased government efforts to prevent and treat the disease)
20. The war in southern Lebanon and northern Israel (in favor of an immediate cease-fire)
21. Hunger (in favor of larger government entitlement programs and trade policy changes to alleviate the problem)
22. Global warming (in favor of new government regulations on carbon dioxide emissions)
23. North Korean nuclear weapons (in favor of negotiations, without any threats of military force, as the way to stop nuclear proliferation)
Mind you, I am sympathetic with a near majority of these “concerns,” especially the twelfth. But look high and low in the NCC for any creedal statement. Is there any Trinitarian expression? Is there any affirmation of Jesus Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity?
No. There couldn’t be. If you’ve got Swedenborgians and the nebulous UCC paying dues, you can’t be Trinitarian, or Incarnational, or even dogmatic at all.
(I take that back: you can be, in the NCC, dogmatic about homophobia, patriarchalism, colonialism, and intelligent design. It's okay to have strong positions about those bad, bad things. It probably means that you were hurt, at one time, by those mean people. You just need time to process these commensurate feelings on the way to coming out.)
In liberal christianity (which will remain in small cap’s, in the style of e. e. cummings, who regularly does Azgothian seminars for the NCC), ethics has replaced dogma. Consciousness has replaced sacrament. Fellowship has replaced authority. “Position statements” have replaced the Canons, whether Apostolic or Conciliar.
Hugging has replaced liturgy.
There is no need for obedience anymore. Let’s face it: I am often frightened by my reading of the Pedalion. But I only get warm fuzzies, albeit with the hazy headache of a beery stupefaction, from reading anything from the NCC, or their clones who are hard at work everywhere, even in – ahem – Orthodox circles.
Liberal christianity is the gravitational mass toward which all Protestantism tends. This one fact helps explain the sad history of conservative denominations tending, over time, toward liberalism. Look at the Presbyterians. Look at the Methodists. Even the Evangelicals are getting inclusive in language, and anti-patriarchal in ChurchSpeak.
Thus, it makes no sense for Orthodox or Latin committees to ape these practices, as they are only mimicking an order that is lurching toward dissolution. (One wonders if committees with banners like, say, "Social and Moral Issues" will ever attain the existential courage of SK's famous typo.)
Liberal christianity is “co-terminous” with western culture. It is not a mere constituent religion: its ethical form of enthusiastic fellowship-seekers, promising and experiencing group identification and mutual ethical commitment is the default ethos and culture of the Enlightened West. It permits, within itself, a plethora of metaphysical statements, for it eschews anything normative in this regard. Islam, Kabbala, the New Age, Wicca, the Golden Dawn, Voodoo, Animism, Shintoism all have a home under the roof of liberal christianity: they are all fellow travelers.
There is no “doctrinaire” metaphysic in liberal christianity. That is why the Trinity can be “re-stated” in the form of “Mother, Child and Lover” (for the more daring, and honest), or the more pedestrian “Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.” That is also why the Trinity may simply be discarded in belief, and replaced by an ambiguous theism that is exhausted by the term “Higher Power.”
Accordingly, mere ethics -- as isolated from Apostolic Dogma -- has no power to change behavior:
Teenagers will read “safe sex” statements and promptly burrow like bunnies under the covers, delirious in self-expression and liberation from fundamentalist and homophobic strictures.
The Ford Foundation will actually fund the NCC and go “ooh and ahh” over its environmental “positions,” and continue to mottle the atmosphere with gas.
Islamicists will rejoice over the hand-wringings of the sophisticated and the cultured, who rail at Israel but are convinced that al Qaeda is mean only because it is oppressed.
Environmentalists will find in the NCC a bosom buddy in the fight against those dastardly Creationists, who, like Shiva, are the destroyer of all liberal worlds: but it is the doctrine of Creation alone that will save Creation.
Ethics are like good intentions: that is, good only for infernal pavement. Morals come not from the study of social issues and moral concerns, produced by committees in their never-ending war against the English language. Morals come not from the study of ethics.
For one thing, morals come from good company, like that of the saints. Morals come from that scary pariah-term "conscience," which itself is predicated upon obedience to authority and faith in Jesus Christ. Morals come from the Holy Spirit, Who works to transform man, one by one and assent by assent, into the divine.
Liberal christianity, suffice to say, will have none of this. The Sponsors want only ethics, not morals. Morals will only obstruct the infernal agenda. On the other hand, ethics are, as every agent knows, eminently modifiable.
Ask any of Hitler’s scientists. Ask Oppenheimer. Ask the once pro-lifer, Bill Clinton. Oh, and while you’re at it, ask that great Azgothian poet Jimmy Carter. He writes poems too, and some of them bad as mine.