Thursday, August 16, 2012

Liberal Christianity

If all publicity is good publicity Ross Douthat has done a service to the Episcopal Church by announcing its forthcoming collapse in his NYTimes column and blog. His thesis is the standard, discredited explanation from Dean Kelly's 1972 book Why the Conservative Churches are Growing

By the same token I suppose liberals are doing good simply by responding--even though their defenses of the faith range from unconvincing to offensive:

Unconvincing: "My wonderful inclusive parish is vibrant and growing." (Congrats to your vibrant, inclusive parish but, sorry, the stats overall for the Episcopal Church, and all other mainline churches are terrible)

Offensive: "People are leaving because they're a bunch of ignorant, homophobic bigots who prefer to check their brains at the door: our church is too good for them. And we have a low birth rate because our people are conscientiously choosing to be child-free in order to save the environment." (No comment)

For heaven's sake, isn't the problem obvious? People look to churches for religion--not endless politically correct harangues and volunteer work. The problem isn't that liberal churches have become too liberal socially and politically, or that they've rejected "traditional morality"--the problem is that they've jettisoned traditional metaphysics and liturgy. Currently slightly more than half of Americans support gay marriage: the Episcopal Church is hardly showing "prophetic witness" in this regard. If some 51% of Americans agree with the Episcopal Church's sexual ethics, how come the Episcopal Church now represents just under 1% of the population?

The problem isn't that the Episcopal Church is too ethically and socially liberal for most people's tastes. The Church is collapsing because of lack of faith--because the leadership has rejected supernaturalism, believes that theism is completely out of the ballpark for educated people (as Spong declared in his 12 Theses) and regards religion as uninteresting and basically a waste of time. Given these assumptions it's hardly worth making the effort to get more people into the pews (as long as the endowment holds out). Anyway, they should be out in the World, doing social service and political activism--not wasting their time in church.

Why, why couldn't the church have ditched "traditional morality" but kept the metaphysics and liturgy? Isn't this what the whole "spiritual-but-not-religious" movement is about? People want the the woo-woo, the ceremonies and paraphernalia, without the Biblical literalism, puritanism and social conservatism they associate with Christianity. Here is a market niche the Episcopal Church was ideally situated to capture: fancy churches, good music, elaborate rituals, and mysticism without "traditional morality" or Biblical literalism. But it didn't. It adopted a stinking new Prayer Book, contemporary English, the Peace and other detestable garbage that expunged every bit of the numinous from the liturgy.

And ironically, that was just more puritanism, more moralism. Liberals condemned conservatives for puritanitanical restrictions on sexual activity, but liberals were even more puritanical about fantasy, beauty and "escapism." Don't you dare enjoy church--you're here to be edified, to be pushed to go out into the World and work for Justice, Freedom and Peace. Of course if we had a moral motivation drug that we could put in the water supply to make everyone go out and work for social justice we wouldn't need religion at all! We'd sell off all those wasteful churches--every grain of incense is bread from the mouths of the poor--and spend all that money on Justice, Freedom and Peace.


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