Liberal Christianity: A Dangerous Pretend Game.

We’ve been discussing Liberal Christianity here lately, something rare at DC. Some interesting and provocative thoughts have emerged from it. I have to agree with Wounded Ego who said this about Liberal Christianity: "It is, to my mind, like a giant role playing game - only for keeps…I think an excellent illustration of the kind of illusion you are describing can be seen in the excellent flick 'The Village.'" But let me say more...

James McGrath wrote: But when I ask myself "Why not be an atheist?", I come back to a number of things. The power of an experience that really did change my life. The teaching attributed to Jesus that we do to others what we want them to do to us. The inspiring paradigm (which may owe as much to the author of Matthew's Gospel as to the historical figure of Jesus) that there is a third way of resisting injustice that avoids either passivity or taking up arms.

McGrath knows well enough that religious experiences like he’s had are experienced by people with differing faiths, so he also knows that such experiences provide little or no evidence for his particular faith. HE KNOWS THIS! He’s playing pretend, and like the paranoid schizophrenic who thinks the CIA is out to get him, McGrath actually believes these experiences to be real without any evidence for them.

Richard M wrote: Joseph Campbell said somewhere that fundamentalists say religious stories are the truth, atheists say they are a lie, and liberals say they are metaphor.

Actually atheists say these religious stories are delusionary, or false. I do not question the sincerity of the claims of believers, just like I don’t question the sincerity of paranoid schizophrenics. They aren’t lies intended to deceive, they are simply false. And liberal Christians are simply playing pretend with these falsehoods.

Think of it this way. Christmas is coming and parents will tell their children that Santa Claus will bring presents to them. They tell their kids Santa sees if they “are naughty or nice.” When my kids were growing up I told them about Santa, but I also told them we were playing a pretend game. They might not have initial understood me when I told them “we’re playing pretend,” but as they grew older and asked me if he really existed, I would always say “No.” Children love to pretend. It’s their nature, I think. So do adults, especially if they role play while having sex. Is there value in playing pretend? Yes. It provides spice to our lives. People pretend when they think positively, too, especially sports fans who sit in the same seats, order the same food, and wear the same jerseys to the ball games, as if that’ll help their team win.

This discussion has made me think about playing pretend. I liked the movie “Toy Story,” produced by Disney. The character Buzz Lightyear actually thought he had supernatural powers and could fly. When he learned the truth he was depressed to the point where he didn’t try to help others out for a while. As the movie progresses he learned to do what he could without any of his special powers. I was going through my period of doubt when I first took my kids to that movie, and I asked myself, is Buzz Lightyear better off knowing the truth? I think so, and the reason is clear. Buzz Lightyear could’ve gotten himself killed by bouncing around on spoons and acting like he could fly through the air when he really couldn’t fly. He could’ve hurt himself…badly. The truth is always better, come what may.

Some pretend games are foolish, period. Some provide the needed spice to life. But when pretending crosses over to the point where a person actually thinks the pretend games are real, then I see dangers…many of them, depending on the game being played.

So the question I put forward is whether or not pretending the game of Christianity is playing a dangerous game. I think it is. Sure, it may provide a certain spice to life, since having a heavenly father figure can provide comfort, but it also sacrifices the intellect, encourages others to do likewise, and buttresses the claims of other religious people to maintain their faith who do evil in the name of religion.

Richard M says, “this is my main objection with the views if folks like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Much as I respect them otherwise, I think they err grievously when they lump liberal religionists with conservative ones. Atheists and secular humanists will find no better friends in the world than reform jews, unitarians, and the like -- they will be the ones who join atheists to vote for atheist candidates, push to keep ID out of schools, promote critical thinking and science education, support liberal social causes, welcome Hindu prayers in congress, support physician-assisted suicide, support same-sex marriage, ban coercive prayer from public schools, and jump at the chance to send Pat Robertson a one-way ticket to Sheol.”

Agreed! However, religious thinking adds several new areas of conflict to life. We already fight over money, our kids, our spouses, our jobs, our races, our genders, and our nationalities. But religions also provide additional areas of conflict over sacred spaces, books, traditions, leaders, and gods. Granted, the liberal is probably not going to fight over these things, so she has a benign type of faith, for which I can be thankful for. But when the liberal participates in surveys where it’s claimed, say, that 60-80% of the people believe in God, this bolsters those fundamentalists who do fight over sacred spaces and gods. There has been a great deal of harm done in the name of Christianity. So it’s like claiming to be a member of the KKK while openly disavowing the beliefs of the KKK. Why do that?