I woke up today to find that my post from last night sparked off a bit of a debate on my Facebook feed. I admittedly posted it with the intentionally controversial statement that the Methodist Church and the Westboro Baptist church had something in common. The main thrust of my post, however, was that even liberal churches still hold to views that are damaging to society.
I never quite know how to handle two friends of mine arguing on my Facebook wall. I tend to love a good debate, but usually when a friend and I get into it, we come from a position of mutual respect. We can disagree with each other – sometimes passionately – knowing that at the end of the conversation we’ll still be good friends and ready to go out for a beer.
That is if there’s anything left capable of going out afterward.
When friends of mine argue, though, the feeling is entirely different. Usually when that happens, it’s two people who’ve never met before, and therefore don’t have the built up respect necessary to argue without making things (or taking things) personal. It’s often a whirlwind affair in which one person will feel slighted, respond with an insult, and then be insulted in return. And even though it’s happening on my wall, I don’t feel like I can put a hand in without seeming to take someone’s side. I don’t want to hurt either of my friends, but I don’t want it to blowback at me either.
The very core of the argument my friends were having today, I feel, derived from my use of the term “liberal” when defining the Methodist Church. I sometimes make the mistake of assuming that the language I use in this blog is understood equally by everybody, and by making that type of assumption I allow my message to be misunderstood. Working on issues like this is part of the reason I’m writing this blog. It’s a learning process.
If I eventually become infallible, can I still write an atheist blog?
The term liberal has shades of definition, which are similar, but far from exactly the same. For example, to say I put a liberal amount of sugar in my coffee means something different from saying my politics are leaning liberal. As for describing different denominations of Christianity, liberal has a slightly different connotation as well.
It’s a similar problem as when creationists try to argue against evolution by saying, “it’s just a theory.” See, the world “theory” has a very different definition in scientific circles than it does in colloquial use. A theory in normal conversation is an unproven idea. I science, it’s a model with mountains of evidence supporting it that is accepted as an accurate description of the way the universe works. When scientists refer to the Theory of Evolution, they’re discussing an unquestionably proven fact that’s as well accepted as the Theory of Gravity or the Germ Theory of Disease.
You’re telling me this guy might not understand basic scientific concepts?
So what does the world “liberal” mean as applied to religious denominations, specifically Christian sects?
A liberal denomination is a denomination that puts its focus less on godly punishment or stopping sin, but instead focuses more on charity, good works, and love. Politically, liberal is the opposite of conservative. Religiously, however, liberal is the opposite of fundamentalist. Liberal denominations reject ideas like young earth creationism, transubstantiation, predestination, and it some cases they even reject the idea of hell.
Liberal denominations and atheists are often on the same side of issues. For example, many liberal denominations are proponents of women’s rights and comprehensive sex education. They often fight to stop religious intrusion in government and schools, and believe in teaching real science in classrooms.
They go by the controversial view that this might not actually be accurate.
“But wait, Dave! Those issues all seem to fall under a liberal political view,” you might be saying. And the fact is, yes, that’s true. There is definitely an overlap between liberal politics and liberal religion. The more far right leaning elements of the current conservative movement are doing a lot to increase the overlap between fundamentalist Christian views and conservatism, but there’s still a significant difference. The Tea Party is doing their best to equate being conservative and being a fundamentalist Christian, but you don’t have to be a follower of Jesus to agree with a conservative fiscal policy.
But even if liberal Christians have a lot in common with liberal politics doesn’t mean they fully support all ideas on the left. The Methodist Church’s opposition to gay marriage is a perfect example. There are other progressive sects – like the Episcopal Church – who might not take a stance against gay marriage. Even they, however, have internal movements opposed to that stance.
“Just remember what I said about gays… oh yeah, I never covered that subject.”
Liberal denominations are also not necessarily friends of atheists either. As one of my friends in the Facebook argument mentioned above put it,
“[Some] of the ugliest, most hateful things that have ever been said to me for being an atheist, were said by liberal Christians.
Liberal Christians have compared me to cannibals and told me I should kill myself. I’ve been compared to Jihadis and told that I should “just shut up” about religion. I’ve been told by Liberal Christians that I have no basis for morality….and so on and so on.”
Just because a certain Christian group doesn’t agree with the angry, fire-and-brimstone types out there doesn’t mean they want to have anything nice to say about atheists.
“If liberal Christians hate atheists, doesn’t that mean I have to like them? Thanks Obama!”
And this gets back to my original point in yesterday’s article. It doesn’t matter how kind and loving someone thinks their religion makes them, it still allows them to believe in the irrational. Since we, as atheists, by living moral and happy lives challenge some of the assertions Christianity makes, we’re a threat. Sometimes even our own friends are incapable of treating us as good, normal people. No matter how moral our lives are, no matter what good we do in the world, atheists will be pariahs because of the unprovable claims of religion.