Religion & Philosophy

Progressive, intellectual Christians: what do you believe?

What-do-progressive-Christians-believe

One thing I have always wanted to ask one of my SJC friends is this: what do you actually believe about your religion, literally?

I’m an atheist or a “Jungian pagan,” depending on your view of things, but a great many of my friends are Christians. Not social conservative types, no, but social justice Christians (SJC). I’ve talked about the difference in the past:

Let’s consider “Christianity,” for instance, since it’s the one I can speak to with the most authority. I use quotation marks because there are at least two distinct religions claiming the term in the US today: the fundamentalist, tribal, hate-based faith of the religious right and the progressive social justice-focused faith of the left. These two are not, in any sense beyond some pro-forma mystical dogma, related. The former is rooted in the Old Testament and while they love talking about Jesus, it’s more clear with each passing day that they don’t believe a damned word he had to say. The latter is based in a certain take on the New Testament – mainly they take their cues from the red letters, the things that Jesus is alleged to have actually taught, and the better among them waste little time on the administrative/institutional/political monstrosity constructed out of the whole mess by Peter and Paul.

If you don’t like how I’m carving the pie, your alternative is to accept as a unified, coherent vision a belief set that:

a) believes you should love everyone as you would yourself and your god, and also

b) thinks genocide and slavery and rape are okay.

If those things coexist neatly in your head, seek help.

I’ve even wondered if it were possible to be both an atheist and a Christian.

One thing I have always wanted to ask one of my SJC friends is this: what do you actually believe about your religion, literally?

Social Conservatives basically view the Bible as journalism. They see it as the literal word of God and believe it’s all fact and they don’t concern themselves much with either the flights of the fantastic or the rampant contradictions. And while they’re read Leviticus, it’s like they never actually paid attention to the atrocities it advocates.

I’m pretty sure the SJCs I know aren’t like that at all. But there are questions.

  • Do you believe Jesus Christ was a real person?
  • How about the virgin birth?
  • Resurrection? Ascension into heaven?
  • I’m assuming most of the Old Testament is understood as myth, but is there anything there you buy?
  • Do you believe in heaven in any literal sense? Hell? What do you believe happens after you die?
  • This, of course, is all tied up with sin and forgiveness. What do you think about those concepts?
  • Do you believe in a literal god? If so, what is the nature of said entity?

These are honest questions and they come from a place of genuine curiosity. I know how I am – I can tolerate all kinds of ambiguity and fuzziness and contradiction in my head, and if I were an SJC I’d probably regard this entire discussion as extraneous. The real focus should be on what the New Testament words ascribed to Jesus tell us about how to live and treat our fellow citizens.

But I’m in no position to project this onto others. I have some very smart, very thoughtful Christian friends and I’d rather they tell me what they think.

Categories: Religion & Philosophy

2 replies »

  1. Do you believe Jesus Christ was a real person?
    There’s historical evidence for Jesus being a real person, so I can accept that, just as I can accept the existence of Siddhartha Gautama and Mohammed. All the divine attributions? All throughout history there were (and are) people who claim divine powers or knowledge (just ask Jim Bakker, he’ll tell you). I’m not convinced.

    How about the virgin birth?
    Nope. Neither of the Jesus-related ones not any of the others.

    Resurrection? Ascension into heaven?
    More inclined to reincarnation (wishful thinking that I get another shot)

    I’m assuming most of the Old Testament is understood as myth, but is there anything there you buy?
    I’ve always thought of the Tower of Babbel as an allegory for the development of different religions as well as different languages. Nothing is guaranteed to screw up human society more that giving them different words for “god” and an different understanding (translation) of who that is.

    Do you believe in heaven in any literal sense? Hell? What do you believe happens after you die?
    I like the reincarnation possibility and believe in the interconnectedness of all beings. I think I always believed the latter–even before I had a word for it or understood it as a theological construct. Way before I heard of the Buddhist belief or the Unitarian 7th Principle, I saw “Star Wars” and understood the definition of “The Force.”

    This, of course, is all tied up with sin and forgiveness. What do you think about those concepts?
    Sin and forgiveness are human constructs we’ve foisted off on the divine. I still find Fr. Guido Sarducci’s explanation of “Paying for your sins” to be hysterically funny. It crystalizes the petty nature of literal “understanding.” Humans wrong each other and try to find ways to forgive each other. Some wrongs are unforgivable, so I can understand why people would turn to a divine being to forgive what humans could not possibly excuse. Or, perhaps more often, humans turn to a divine being to forgive what the themselves cannot forgive about themselves.

    Do you believe in a literal god? If so, what is the nature of said entity?
    No. I hope that there are greater and wiser beings in the universe than us. I have some faith in that vastness and possibility. But faith is different from belief. Beliefe asserts “is” and faith asserts “could be.”

    Bonus: is it “possible to be both an atheist and a Christian”?
    I already know people who fall into that category (as well as Jewish Atheists, etc). Some people are more likely to call being Jewish a “cultural” identity,” but I know people who insist that “Judaism” is their religion but they also happen to be Atheist. So, OK.

  2. Breaking down the questions –

    Yes, I think Jesus was real (and not just because I saw a burial shroud in Torino).

    Virgin birth/pregnancy of the divine? Mary; the mother of Buddha, Queen Mayadevi; and Anakin Skywalker’s mother, Shmi were impregnated by holy spirits/woke up pregnant. Like a lot of other things, it is a common thread/story line in religion. Ok, so Anakin turned out to be a horrible person, but still he was initially pegged as the “savior”/someone special.

    Resurrection/Ascension – As an SJC I believe in an afterlife, and like Cat, think of it more as reincarnation. You didn’t ask, but I also believe in ghosts/spirits which would account for the disciples seeing Jesus after his burial.

    Buying into the OT stories? I would have to say the great flood, only because it appears in other religions and there has been geological evidence of massive flooding – I don’t think it covered the whole earth, but I do believe there was a flood that got adapted into the lore.

    Heaven and hell? I don’t think they are literal places, but I do think that your reincarnation is influenced by how kind or shitty you were in a previous life. Again, this is not exclusive to Christianity. I wish I could remember fully, but in World Religion at ISU the prof was lecturing on Hinduism and was discussing moksha (the end of reincarnation), but until moksha is obtained one’s spirit will continue the cycle of being born, dying, and end entering the spiritual realm. Staying in the spiritual realm is the ultimate and final goal, spiritual realm is heaven and then having to repeat the cycle of living and dying is hell that you are given a chance to escape?

    After I die? See above comment about ghosts. I think how you lived your life will influence not only your next life, but also how long between those lives and how often you have to do it over.

    Sin and forgiveness as concepts? Right and wrong/moral and immoral are social constructs used to function in harmony with others. That said, I believe in the forgiveness of sins, but I think one has to actually feel remorse for the sin. I see praying for forgiveness as the same as meditation – letting go of what you don’t like about yourself or something you did.

    Do you believe in a literal god? If so, what is the nature of said entity? I’m not sure how to answer this. Do I think there is one god controlling everything? No, do I think there are many gods? I think there is a big “G” god and little “g” gods. I don’t think they’re sitting around plotting that if X group does Y thing, a flood/fire/whatever is going to happen. More than controlling what is happening in present time, I think the gods are really more to guide spirits through the realms and either back to earth and a new body or granting moksha on the souls that have obtained it.

    As for being an Atheist and Christian? Why couldn’t someone be both? When I lived in Hawaii we were members of a church that was predominantly Japanese (way back when the area had been the Japanese and Chinese neighborhood). One woman explained that she had grown up Buddhist, but that her parents sent her to our church as a child for Sunday School mostly so that they could do household chores/errands without the kids. She views Buddhism as her culture and Christianity as her religion. Conversely, my daughter is an atheist, but is Christine in culture (she celebrates Christmas and Easter).

    Anyway, I hope this is coherent as I have a tendency to write in stream of consciousness.

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