Ross Douthat Asks if Liberal Christianity Can be Saved and His Readers Answer No
It is always amusing to read conservative Ross Douthat’s columns in The New York Times and read the visceral negative reaction of almost all his commenters. The New York Times of course is Holy Writ for most liberals in this country, and their seeing a conservative opinion piece in it is simply beyond the pale for most of them.
Today , Douthat asked if liberal Christianity can be saved, noting that liberal denominations are going the way of the passenger pigeon, the Edsel and conservative Democrats:
IN 1998, John Shelby Spong, then the reliably controversial Episcopal bishop of Newark, published a book entitled “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” Spong was a uniquely radical figure — during his career, he dismissed almost every element of traditional Christian faith as so much superstition — but most recent leaders of the Episcopal Church have shared his premise. Thus their church has spent the last several decades changing and then changing some more, from a sedate pillar of the WASP establishment into one of the most self-consciously progressive Christian bodies in the United States.
As a result, today the Episcopal Church looks roughly how Roman Catholicism would look if Pope Benedict XVI suddenly adopted every reform ever urged on the Vatican by liberal pundits and theologians. It still has priests and bishops, altars and stained-glass windows. But it is flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes.
Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase.
This decline is the latest chapter in a story dating to the 1960s. The trends unleashed in that era — not only the sexual revolution, but also consumerism and materialism, multiculturalism and relativism — threw all of American Christianity into crisis, and ushered in decades of debate over how to keep the nation’s churches relevant and vital.
Traditional believers, both Protestant and Catholic, have not necessarily thrived in this environment. The most successful Christian bodies have often been politically conservative but theologically shallow, preaching a gospel of health and wealth rather than the full New Testament message.
But if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance. Within the Catholic Church, too, the most progressive-minded religious orders have often failed to generate the vocations necessary to sustain themselves.
Go here to read the rest. As usual, the reactions of most of his commenters were unintentionally hilarious. A random sample:
Why should any type of mythology — liberal or conservative — be “saved”?
If the church has to stay backwards to survive, if being a Christian really requires people have to pretend to know things that they not only don’t know, but CAN’T know, then by all means, let it die out ASAP.
I don’t understand why anyone even reads this guy’s column, much less takes it seriously.
People are called to faith or not based on their experiences in life. Faith is not just another subject for you to twist with clever words. If one believes in Christ and his message and has studied it, he/she knows that Christ said that the kingdom of God is inside you and all around you. And if that’s true, religion is manufactured. I’m just as likely to find the truth from the hot dog vendor at Central Park as I am from Pope Benedict. And if Christ was the embodiment of pure love, then any language or action that goes against pure love is against Christ.
Ross — have you ever heard of something called Vatican II? After World War II the Catholic Church was forced to do some very serious internal soul searching and change some of its old dogma. Part of the reason the Nazis were able to slaughter 6 million Jews with relative ease is that all of Christian Europe truly believed that the Jews were responsible for murdering Jesus Christ. The Jews were finally being punished at long last for refusing to believe the divinity of Jesus and, therefore, they deserved whatever they got. It’s sad that it took something so horrific to make the Church expunge the biggest lie of all and the Church finally dropped the ancient lie that the Jews had killed Christ from its litugy.
All i’m trying to prove is that even the Catholic Church had to clean up its act and change with the times.
modern Christianity in America has been taken over by the crazy right… basically, ask yourself “what wouldn’t Jesus do” and that’s what they believe in
I can’t imagine what Mr. Douthat would claim to know about liberal Christianity, or liberal anything. Or why he’d care, as it’s completely out of his world. Or why he’d have the chutzpah to offer an opinion.
Douthat (born at the end of 1979) here continues his habitual maligning of the 60s as an age of “consumerism and materialism.”
It just ain’t so.
THAT age arrived, along with Mr. Douthat, in the 80s with his idol Ronald Reagan.
Douthat speaks of the need for “personal redemption,” continuing a self-centered Augustianism that has plagued Christianity since the 5th century.
Matthew 25: 31-46 makes clear that the final judgement will be of the NATIONS as to how they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick (Obamacare anyone?) and comforted those in prison.
If Douthat would read Acts 2:44-45 and 4:34-35 he would see that the first Christians repudiated private ownership and embraced a completely communitarian (dare one say communistic?) ethic.
As a result, it says, “None of their members was ever in want.” Acts 4:34.
It’s called “the Kingdom of Heaven,” Ross, right here on earth.
No pie in the sky for those folks!
We as a species have outgrown thousands of gods and goddesses and demigods and each time a god was was put on the shelf with all the other myths, a new god took its place. The sun was once a god, and the moon was a god but when people figured out they were nothing more than natural phenomenon, then they invented new gods with ever more elaborate stories to go along with the persona.
The god of Abraham should have been put on the shelf with the rest of folklore soon we walked on the moon, or cured the plague, or any number of human milestones. It is on life support now, leave it alone and let it die a dignified death. Stop trying to resuscitate it, it is cruel to keep the willfully ignorant enslaved just to keep money in the collection plate.
Time to grow up and leave childish things behind…. Hmm … that sounds familiar.
Douthat’s readers help demonstrate why liberal Christianity is dying. The true religion for his readers is secular liberalism. Christianity at best, for a few of them, is a useful tool as propaganda for a liberal point of view. Liberalism in its contemporary incarnation is, for many of its devotees, a substitute religion. That is why so many of his commenters have such a seething contempt, if not hatred, for Douthat. He is attacking their holy of holies and they will not tolerate it. Liberal Christianity is pointless for most liberals since it merely dilutes the True Faith of secular liberalism. That is why liberal Christianity will soon be one with Nineveh and Tyre.