Is it time for the liberal progressive Christian church to say goodbye to inflexible fundamentalists and ideological conservatives who no longer feel the need to search for spiritual truths because they already have the truth?
It is it time for liberal politician’s to say goodbye to ideologically conservative politicians who already possess the truth and see no reason for compromise or dialogue?
The question in the larger perspective, is it time for political and religious liberals to formally separate themselves from the inflexibly conservative extremists in their institutions?
I believe it is…….and for several important reasons.
Reasons To Formally Separate From Inflexibly Conservative Extremists
First: Black-and-white extremist either/or thinking is a very primitive form of thinking that develops in most humans very early in childhood. It is how young children deal with fear and uncertainty. They simplify the complex adult world into dualistic categories of good and bad, right and wrong, and either/or.
Second: History has proven beyond doubt that extremist thinking is dangerous. It is the root cause of prejudice and violence. It has given us the burning of witches, the Holocaust, ethnic cleansing, and the formation of virtually every oppressive, totalitarian, dictatorial government in the history of human civilization.
And third: Extremist thinkers are rarely open to dialogue, growth, compromise, or change that does not conform to “their” ideological beliefs. Think of a stubborn five year old with their bottom lip stuck out, their hands on their hips, and leaning forward with that look in their eye that says “I’m right! Your wrong! Make me!”
The Prophet’s View from the Fringe of the Wilderness
One of the more helpful ideas I picked up on my life journey came from Wendell Berry’s classic book titled The Unsettling of America. To paraphrase his insights…
“The concept of health is rooted in the concept of wholeness….those prophets who go into the wilderness to explore the outer fringes of our cultural issues do us a great service……they help us to define more clearly the details and perspectives found out there on the fringes……but a civilized culture cannot live out there on the extreme fringes of the wilderness…..our prophets must return with the wisdom and insights they have discovered on the fringes of the wilderness because human culture must be lived in the wholeness of the middlepath… where the wisdom and truths found in the wilderness on both fringes are blended with compromise, dialogue, interpretation, and mutuality.
The journey they take to the fringes of the wilderness in the search of new truths is the historic role and mission of the prophet. When we forbid our prophets to go to the fringes of the wilderness, or when they go there but refuse to return to the center, we lose the possibility of renewal and the vitality that comes with important new truths.
To achieve unity and wholeness, the institutions of a civilized culture require the ability to blend and integrate the wisdom and insights found by their prophets on both sides of the wilderness; and both sides of every issue.
The Danger of All Ideologies
The great danger of all ideologies is their tendency to resist change, and their insistence on conformity. Without choice, and the possibility of change, growth and creativity are not possible. The imperative presumption they already possess “the” truth brings to an end all conversation, dissent, or the search for new truths from the other side of the wilderness.
Faith is replaced by inflexible beliefs and certainties. We silence our prophets.
Ideologies build walls of superiority on the extreme fringes of the wilderness. Those who would climb the walls, question the walls, or attempt to tear down the walls, are persecuted, banned, labeled as ignorant heretics, rejected from the community, or killed. Doubt, questions, dialogue, disagreement, compromise, or intellectual journeys outside the ideological walls are aggressively forbidden and those who would disobey or challenge the rules are quickly silenced.
This is where we find ourselves religiously and politically today.
Conservative Political Ideology
Our political process is ideologically gridlocked and progress has ground to a halt. The healthy give and take of our democratic political process is no longer functioning the way our founders intended it to function. Those who question the inflexible conservative political ideologies that presume to represent the truth are mocked, labeled as ignorant, rejected as unfit for leadership, and considered dangerous.
In the meantime our nation and the world is moving rapidly toward financial crisis. China is gaining control of critical global resources. Oversight and reforms that would better control the banks and Wall Street greed has ground to a halt. The flow of wealth is flowing rapidly upward from those in the middle class to those already in the 1% of our culture.
We are losing faith with our banks, Wall Street, and most importantly, in the political neutrality of our judges on the Supreme Court.
Conservative Religious Ideology
Christianity has increasingly moved to the right with its inflexible theological beliefs. The theological beliefs of the conservative Christian church are no longer making sense to an educated and scientifically literate 21st century culture. The ranks of the spiritual but not religious are growing rapidly.
Because their attempts to use fear and the threat that “only the saved” will be allowed admission into heaven is no longer working, religious conservatives are now imposing their ideological dogma on society by suing the government on the grounds of First Amendment rights as a way to infiltrate the political process of our nation and force the inflexible religious beliefs of their Christian religion onto all Americans.
Their threats of heavenly punishment are no longer achieving the religious obedience and conformity they seek, so they are abandoning the power of unconditional love and compassion to control the faithful and turning to our national laws and secular politics to achieve their goals.
The spiritual poverty of the ideologically conservative Christian Church is becoming increasingly visible and evident. When faith is replace by the power of national “law”, we are no longer talking about a “religious” institution. We are talking about an institution that has lost credibility in our 21st century culture; an institution that is dying.
Progressive Political and Religious Liberals Need To Make A Choice
We are an educated 21st century culture that is rapidly shedding the bigotry and prejudices that were historically supported by the Christian Church… such as the rejection of evolution, acceptance of slavery, anti-gay homophobia, sexism, racism, the belief that Earth was the center of the Universe, the belief that illness is caused by demon possession, natural disasters are God’s punishment for sin, and the belief that Christianity is only valid and true religion for humanity.
We are a 21st century culture that has been educated by history on the dangers inherent in dualistic, judgmental ideological thinking. We have experienced the terrible pain and suffering that comes from such ideological thinking.
Ideological thinking was responsible for the deaths of over 100 million human beings in the 20th century alone. The death of human beings, at the hands of other human beings, because of ideological thinking throughout human history is incalculable!
I think it’s fair to say that supporting, embracing, or allowing extreme dualistic ideological thinking, whether political or religious, is a form of human ignorance that needs to be removed from human culture.
Those who would defend ideological extremism for any reason, politically or religiously, need to be understood by an educated, 21st century consciousness as representing an unacceptable form of human ignorance.
Strong personal beliefs do not give one the right to claim possession of absolute truth.
Summary: The Challenge for Liberals and Progressives
We live in a free society that allows ignorance a voice. Even the ignorant have a right to be heard. But allowing or accepting the voice of ignorance to present itself as somehow logical or reasonable, or giving the voice of ignorance legitimate authority to speak for an entire nation, or institution, needs to come to an end… whether that voice is speaking inside of our political institution, or inside our religious institutions.
A modern 21st century culture that gives ignorance any form of social or spiritual credibility is a culture that is setting itself up for a very uncomfortable and dangerous future.
Liberals need to let go of their complacency, their desire for unity, their fear of creating social conflict and make a choice… either continue to give ignorance credibility, or find the courage to name it for what it is and take back control of our political and religious institutions.
If the liberal majority proves unwilling to do so, then the violence and conflict that results from allowing ignorance to go unchallenged will become a historical political and religious consequence that rests squarely on their shoulders.
Given the critical problems and challenges facing the future of our species, there is a growing consensus that we are quickly running out of time. We need the truths found on both sides of these growing challenges.
We live in the 21st century. We need to awaken and listen to the insights coming from the scientific prophets who study at the fringes of the wilderness.