1 Stars Out Of 5
New Package for the Leftover Left
August 21, 2012
You have to give this book credit, it announces its real purpose immediately: you're in the land of "We Love Everybody, But We Hate the Religious Right." The authors claim that in a Bible study setting they spoke of the Adam and Eve story and stated it isn't literally true, and then someone shouted "I just knew you were one of those d-----liberals!" Oh, please. I've been in hundreds of churches, and the only time I've ever heard the word "d---" is when a liberal pastor uses it for shock effect (except it doesn't shock anyone in a liberal church, but it makes them feel superior in knowing you wouldn't hear "d---" in a Baptist church or Assembly of God). Of course, ripping up the straw man known as Uptight-and-Stupid Religious Right Guy is the whole purpose here, so don't expect him to be presented accurately (don't expect Christian agape either). The Preface continues: "There was panic" in the Bible study. Sorry, but this is obviously a blatant lie. Church people don't "panic" when confronted with liberalsâ€”it happens way too often to be frightening, since we hear our faith smeared in the media on an hourly basis.
The authors go on to assure us that, like all good progressives, they are not out to destroy the faith but to make it deeper and broader. What follows in this toxic book is neither deep nor broad. It isn't new, either. What they label their "revolutionary re-visioning of Christianity" is precisely what the "panicked" person in their Preface says: dismantling the faith to suit their political agenda.
If you'd care for some insight into the authors and their agenda, visit their churches' websites. David Felten is at The Fountains United Methodist in Phoenix. I quote from their About Us page: "If you're looking for a `What We Believe' page, you're going to be disappointed. Seems that United Methodists aren't that big on requiring its adherents to believe a bunch of stuff in order to be part of the movement. . . . We are keeping the Faith and dropping the Dogma." Further down the page, however, the church does state its dogma: "We at the Fountains seek to model Jesus' radical inclusivity and hospitality by welcoming and affirming all people regardless of age, sex, race, ability, or sexual orientation." Trust me, these authors who boast about their "undogmatic" Christianity would eagerly show you the door if you were to question this "radical inclusivity." The authors know, of course, that no church shuts its doors to people on account of age, sex, race, or ability. But they have to strike the pose of openness to contrast themselves with those horrid Religious Right types. In fact, as I read through the book, I realized that there is something essentially destructive about the Religious Left: it isn't trying to help people build a life-enhancing, heart-enlarging faith, but trying to show that the other side (evangelicals and fundamentalists, though the authors always use "fundamentalists," for obvious reasons) is stupid and mean-spirited.
According to the book, "the Bible is full of colorful characters, lying, cheating, sex, hate, war, sex, betrayal, murder, sex, letters, poetry, history, sex, great ideas, lousy ideas, and more sex." In case you lost count, "sex" is mentioned five times, which lets you know up-front that sex is a critical issue for the liberal church, and were it not for the liberals' frequent announcement that "whatever your sexual practices, God approves," the liberal churches would never get any media coverage. Following this, the book tears into the whole idea of the Bible being divinely inspired, brings up the 1925 Scopes evolution trial (evil fundamentalist versus smart liberals), and puts the reader in the position of wondering: Do I side with those Right morons who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, or do I side with these hip, cool Lefties who are wide-open about sex and join them in mocking the Religious Right?
If you join these cool liberals and the "re-visioned" religion in this book, here is what your faith will consist of: endorsing whatever the farthest left wing of the Democratic Party is pushing for, which at the moment will mean reducing your carbon footprint, marching in gay pride parades, standing on your church lawn waving signs that say "Stop Global Warming!" and e-mailing your Congressperson to encourage him/her to vote for expanding welfare. This is the positive part of their agenda. The negative is: badmouth Christians who disagree with you, distance yourself from them at every opportunity. Talk constantly about love and acceptance, but confront Christian conservatives with spite and malice.
Mingled in with all this open contempt for the people they detest, the authors do utter one bit of truth: the mainline churches are declining in membership, which has been going on since the 1960s, when they traded in faith for political activism. That activism is such a clichÃ© by now that it has to be repackaged as "progressive" and "inclusive." (I find it amusing that the book doesn't acknowledge that the authors and their denomination, the United Methodist, are part of the declining mainlineâ€”i.e., the mainlines ARE "progressive" and "inclusive," yet they are shutting down churches right and left due to membership loss.) This watery political religion will temporarily attract a few confused, shallow-minded seekers who get a kick out of pastors and Bible scholars who denounce other Christians, but it has no staying power.
And speaking of denouncers: John Shelby Spong, who is quoted by the authors with slobbering approval, was Episcopal bishop of Newark, now retired. While he was bishop, membership in his diocese dropped by half. That is hardly an achievement for any progressive to boast of. The sad fact is that this form of religion, used as a tool by cynical politicians and journalists, does not feed the heart or mind, nor provide any certainty in a confused and confusing world. People need God, and political activism will not meet that need.
I suspect that the real audience of the Religious Left is not the mass of unchurched people, but the theophobe cynics in the media and academia. The progressive clergy imagine themselves being patted on the head and told, "Very nice churchâ€”doesn't resemble Christianity at all!"