Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Liberal Christianity Is Anti-Intellectual

Imagine that your friend Tom ran up to you and frantically blustered out, "Mike said that an angel revealed to him the date of the apocalypse - we have to leave the country and form a colony in the middle of the Pacific. It's our only hope!" You might dismiss the comment out of hand, for no particular reason other than that it sounds unlikely. But that's not a good reason to dismiss it. Let's say you go to question Mike, and you ask "Why the Pacific?" Mike confidently tells you that there's a mountain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and that if we all climb to the top of that mountain we'll be spared from the apocalypse (presumably a flood) and live. So you threaten to kill him, stabbing him through the shoulder once to show him you're serious. He still won't recant - he believes what he's saying is true. You still won't follow Mike because you've checked Google Maps and there is no mountain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

You go back to Tom and tell him everything. Tom looks at you kind of condescendingly and says, "______, you're too much of a literalist. I know Mike is wrong about the mountain in the middle of the Pacific, but I believe him on spiritual matters." Mike is dangerously wrong, and Tom is an idiot. Why? And what does this have to do with Liberal Christianity?

Why Tom Is Like Liberal Christianity
In the example, you can't check whether the apocalypse is coming, but you can double-check whether Mike is really trustworthy on the subject. But if Mike fails on the things that you can prove (or disprove, as in this case with the mountain in the Pacific), Tom is a fool for trusting Mike on the things that can't be proven (like the apocalypse or the angel). Tom is anti-intellectual; he chooses to keep believing when he has no reason to do so. Tom even admits that Mike is wrong about basic facts, and he still won't give up following Mike.

Liberal Christianity is just about as dumb and anti-intellectual as Tom. It really believes that the Bible has failed on the factual stuff (historical details, science, failing the test of non-contradiction), and it still says incredibly laughable things like "We still believe the Bible on spiritual matters." That's crazy. Why would you believe a book on an unprovable subject when it has supposedly failed every test that can be thrown at it? Liberal Christianity thinks it's enlightened because it's kept the beliefs, and thrown out all of that small-minded literalist stuff. But it has no reason to hold to Christian beliefs, any more than you or I have reason to believe in fairies or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (followers of whom declare themselves to have been "touched by His noodly appendage"). They believe a book which they also believe has been disproven on every other issue. With that kind of standard, next they'll be drawing their beliefs about Jesus from Tom Harpur's thoroughly debunked book Pagan Christianity (woops, some non-Christians already do).

Plenty of Reasons to Believe the Bible

That said, there are plenty of reasons to believe in the Bible. Liberal Christians think that the Bible contradicts itself, but I'm addicted to reason and even I haven't found a contradiction that holds. Liberals think that the Bible doesn't fit with historical knowledge, but archaeological finds overturn that opinion every other year. The accepted dates for Biblical writings just keep getting earlier and earlier. The writers of the New Testament believed their message so much that they died for it. Not only that, but no one even contradicted their facts until hundreds of years later. I can't double check what the Bible says about the Trinity, or salvation, or angels and the apocalypse, but I can check what it says about other things. And if it fails to prove that it's trustworthy, if the writers fail to prove they were trustworthy, then you and I have no reason to be Christians. There is no such thing an intelligent, non-literalist, I-believe-the-Bible-only-on-spiritual-matters Liberal Christian faith. The only intelligent faith options are literalist, Bible-believing Christianity, or agnosticism.

Not Heaping Scorn On Liberal Christians

My hope? Not to heap scorn upon liberal believers, but to show them that their position doesn't work. I've been reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, and all I keep thinking is, "Wow. That's a really good argument against non-literalist Christians." Dawkins is right. The kind of faith that some Christians -liberal Christians- hold to is no more believable than trusting in Wotan or the tooth fairy. If the Bible contains errors, contradicts itself, and isn't historically trustworthy, then it can't be trustworthy on spiritual matters either. Ditching the Bible and holding to the faith isn't really a well thought-out, intelligent option.



  1. "Liberal Christianity" is almost an oxymoron.

  2. How liberal does a particular church/belief system have to be to be considered liberal? I'm just trying to figure out where your definition lies because as with conservatism, there is a bit of a sliding scale. For example, some think I am extremely liberal because I believe Christians should become friends with homosexual people, and lovingly accept them into their church communities. (Not to say I agree with the lifestyle, and eventually if the person decides to become a Christian certain things will need to be addressed but I'm just using this as an example). Similarly, there are other traditions that are so conservative that interactions with those who are not Christians are frowned upon.

  3. @Kat: I think the only way we'll get a clear line between Liberal/Conservative is to make it an issue of what we believe about the Bible. This could mean that two people could have the same wrong view about things and yet one could be called liberal and the other conservative: one thinks the Bible, responsibly read, endorses homosexual relationships - they're wrong, but not liberal. The other finds ways to get around the Bible in order to endorse homosexual relationships - they're wrong, and liberal. Which means we'd have to find a different word for people who have seriously wrong theological views, because 'Liberal' would pretty much just be used for people who disregard the Bible or take a lower view of it (fudging on inerrency, creating a false way of interpreting it in order to get a certain result [Webb's redemptive hermeneutic], giving equal or stronger authority to something besides the Bible, etc.).

  4. Are you quoting Dan Brown aka Pogobat when you quote, "touched by his noodly appendage"?


  5. @Steph: It might be Dan Brown, but I got it from Dawkins' book The God Delusion.

  6. Interesting. I'm not convinced that "liberalism" means believing that the Bible is God's revelation for spiritual truths but not for factual ones. If anything the view which you are attacking is "liberal evangelicalism" the type of belief that Francis Schaeffer warned against after the Lausanne Conference in 1974. At that time evangelicals tried to come up with a definition of Bibical inerrancy. The final definition included wording along the lines of "the Bible is true in all that it affirms". Some people still wanted to claim the label evangelical for themselves and therefore signed this statement, claiming later that the Bible only "affirms" spiritual truths, not historical or scientific truths.

    Liberal Christianity IMO has an even lower view of the Bible than this. It regards the Bible as basically a work of literature. Men struggling with the idea of God, a bit like Shakespeare or whatever. Here is where your analogy has problems. We can learn truths from literature without any requirement to believe that it is true, so unfortunately I think your "anti-intellectual" argument probably would hold no persuasive force with a dedicated theological liberal.

    The big problem with liberalism as I see it is that there is no real authority. Basically it is about conforming Christainity with the cultural trends in the world. Perhaps this is where its weak point can be found. In my experience (I am in Europe not the US - so things might be different there) theological liberalism is often a very politically dogmatic form of religion. It scorns the idea of dogma in theology, yet ends up embracing the latest political fashions and turns them into dogmas. I have lived in both Western Europe and Eastern Europe. In Western Europe liberal Christianity is usually associated with quite left wing idalistic and pacifistic politics, in Eastern Europe it has less of the left wing tendency but also is often connected with anti-semitic nationalistic politics. In other words it bends to the dominant fashions in the society it finds itself in. Here I think is its weak point, as most liberal Christians are quite self-righteous about their political views.

    Interestingly there was a recent book (2005) about the Christian elements in Nazism (The Holy Reiich by Richard Steigman Gall). While Steigmann-Gall presents very much the prosecution case against Protestantism for its alleged involvement in Nazism, much of his book shows that it was liberal protestantism which was the main church support for Nazism. The 19th Century German liberals had already decided that Jesus probably wasn't a Jew and that the Old Testament was a set of barbaric Jewish fables. The Nazis certainly agreed with that.

    Anyway, just my thoughts.

  7. PS, Apologies, I see from your profile that you are in Canada, in the wonderfully named Moose Jaw, not in the US as I'd assumed.

  8. Hi David,

    Thanks for your thoughts. They are very much appreciated! Although I would shy away from calling the people you described as ‘Christians’ at all, even liberal ones, you do raise a good objection, and one which I wrestled with myself when I wrote this post. In Canada the most liberal Christian denomination is the United Church of Canada, a denomination in which (in some notable cases) a belief in God is not even required in order to be a minister! Compared to these, the ‘liberals’ that I describe are downright conservative fundamentalists. C.S. Lewis is included in the group I wrote about, and he was a defender of the Christian faith – how can he be called a liberal, especially compared to members of the UCC?

    My answer is that while ‘liberal evangelical’ might have been a more precise term for those whom I was writing about, I finally chose to go with ‘liberal Christian’ because, (1) Though I think evangelical liberals have an incredibly self-contradictory belief system, their basic doctrinal beliefs still at least qualify them to be called Christians; (2) Unlike liberal evangelicals, the theological liberals that you describe are so off-base that I don’t think they can even be called Christians, and so ‘Liberal Christian’ does not really accurately describe them; (3) Therefore, only liberal evanglicals can be referred to as liberal Christians.

    This post would not be persuasive to those you have identified as true theological liberals, you’re right about that. But then this post was never meant for them. If I were to address them apologetically, I feel that I would have to group them in under the category of sceptics, agnostics, and atheists. They are that far gone. In whatever sense they still find truths in the Bible, it is only in the same sense that I find truths in the Qu’ran or Bhagavad-Gita: I am only inspired by those statements with which I already agree. If the liberals you describe were to take any more than this out of the Bible, any authoritative moral or theological truth, they would fall under the same criticisms that I have already laid out above, because they would be ascribing authority to a book whose verifiable statements they already believe to be false. That gets us right back to the sort of inconsistency that this post criticizes, doesn’t it?

    P.S. Thanks for your apologies but they are not needed. Half of the authors on The Voice are from the USA and I have the utmost respect for them - I don't mind being mistaken for one of them. Besides, our North American contexts and culture are nearly identical anyway.


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