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Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don't

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Posted by Harvey on July 3, 2003 18:10:23 UTC

Hi Aurino,

As my title suggests, I don't think I'm going to be well received if I give you my reply and yet if I don't reply then my silence is not the answer I would want to give you. So, I'll reply.

No offence but I just don't get it. First, what is the big deal with fundamentalism? I'm not bothered by fundamentalists anymore than I'm bothered by people who believe they are visitors from Andromeda. Why should my spirituality have any reference to people of dubious mental faculties?

I don't agree with this stance on fundamentalism. Fundamentalists are often nice people and like anything else can be highly intelligent and thoughtful people. The majority of humans are probably fundamentalists to some degree and not to mention of the percentages that were fundamentalists a few generations ago.

But the real problem is this: in my eyes, what you call the liberal Christian is not different at all from a fundamentalist. I'm quite sure you can't contemplate the similarities, because you are focussing too much on the differences. But from my perspective, of being neither a liberal nor a fundamentalist, I can't see any meaningful difference.

Well, no one is entirely non-literalist and no one is entirely literalist. The bounderies between liberal and fundamentalist change with each generation, each person, each Church, and even in areas of different areas of discussion. The stance I call liberal is one that is able to survive a non-literalist interpretation of important sections of the bible without abandoning the faith altogether.

Let me give you one example: the attitude regarding science. You may see it such that the fundamentalist interprets science through the eyes of religion, while the liberal interprets religion through the eyes of science. As far as I see it though, both liberals and fundamentalists are silly for thinking science and religion have anything to do with each other. It seems both positions are irrational reactions to the same problem: both perceive science as a threat to religion; one chooses to disfigure science while the other chooses to disfigure religion.

Augustine in the 5th century was a liberal Christian by today's fundamentalist sense, and it has little to do with science. It has more to do with staying consistent with the conceptual schemes of the times versus accepting certain tenets of previous conceptual schemes without fully knowing what those schemes were. For example, there's a lot of debate on whether the writers of Genesis 2 believed that they were writing a factual account, or whether they were writing a conceptual account. For example, many movies aren't supposed to be understood as a factual account, but they drive to deliver a conceptual account where we understand something much more basic and important. A movie that comes immediately to mind is Forrest Gump which isn't meant to be a factual story, but it is a conceptual account of real issues and observations of our era that Forrest encounters. A liberal Christian is one who doesn't disallow conceptual accounts from being the message, and not so much the actual 'facts' of the story. Jesus, for example, used parables which were literally not meant to be taken as factual. This kind of writing, as I understand it, was much more popular in biblical times than today, so a fundamentalist is ill-advised to assume that a literal account is the only valid interpretation scheme. Likewise, people would be ill-advised to dismiss a liberal interpretation of biblical text simply because a liberal is trying to understand the text realistically. Realistically can mean in a scientific sense, but far more generally it means in the context of the times it was written, it means in the context of the writing styles that were taking place at the time, in the context of the mindset and knowledge of the people at the time, etc.

You call yourself a Christian but I recognize as much Christianity in your points of view as I recognize biology in a creationist treatise. Both strike me as nonsense. You say one can be a Christian and reject not only the notion that Jesus walked on water, but that such a feat is absolutely impossible to happen because science says so. You could just as well say you believe in astrology but don't believe the stars have any power over our destinies. I can't help but to perceive those kinds of arguments as nonsense.

You are putting words in my mouth (or words in my text?). I didn't say it was impossible to walk on water, nor did I say that Jesus didn't walk on water. What I am saying is that a liberal interpretation is not restricted to a literal interpretation of that biblical text. I think it is possible that Jesus walked on water, and we cannot know. Although, my Christian faith does not depend on Jesus walking on water. In fact, it is almost irrelevant. My faith is based on a Christian framework which I believe is sound and the heart of Christianity. The framework does not require a belief in all the supernatural acts mentioned in the bible as being literal accounts.

Granted, we don't see people walking on water on a regular basis, or ever, but the ordinary Christian as I understand him is a man who understands how limited and imperfect his knowledge of reality is. He would never be so proud as to maintain that God, the creator of the universe, is not powerful enough to perform what is essentially a parlour trick. That would be sheer nonsense. In fact, the whole point of Christianity is the belief that God is powerful enough to save you from death. If you can't believe God can't perform parlour tricks, I doubt you can honestly believe he can rescue you from the terrible fate awaiting you at the grave.

Yes, salvation is the whole point of Christianity, but that point lies in the hope that God is behind the inspiration of Christianity. That inspiration does not hinge on God dictating word for word as literally true. In fact, I believe that God is much more subtle and works behind the scene in terms of accomplishing his will. I think of God as a minimalist power who is more likely to be the small wind seen by Elijah than the mighty storm seen by Moses.

Nevertheless, however God works he accomplishes his will. If that will is to save us from the finality of death, then it hardly matters that God is a minimalist.

Of course you will say there's no problem at all, that you have figured out how God does it. Well, as with fundamentalists, no point arguing with a "liberal".

I think substantial meaning in life is obtained by seeking out God. If that comes at an exchange of feeling some success, then that's at a small price.

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