Ever since I deconverted from conservative Evangelical Christianity I have been reflexively resistant to theological liberalism's penchant for clinging to the Christian tradition (or religious traditions in general) as specially valuable or true. Upon abandoning my belief in the true, literal authority of the Bible, I immediately came to see it as not only false but even dishonest, prejudicial, unliberated, and outright intellectually offensive to take religious texts, figures, and ideas and just rationalize everything about them such that every time you improved your beliefs and values you just read them back into your tradition as what it really meant all along.
I am not saying that those who read their religious texts in nastier, more stagnant, more regressive, and more scientifically and historically illiterate ways are necessarily always truer adherents to their faiths or always have a more honest hermeneutic. Today’s religious reactionaries who call themselves “conservatives” are projecting their prejudices and theologies into the texts too. They are as guilty of selective, hypocritical reading as the liberals are. And so long as religious traditions exist, I do hope their adherents’ interpretations and practices would conform with and promote more actual truth and more actual goodness rather than less. (See my posts on “True Religion” and philosophy of religion for how I think this might work.) And I am happy to admit that sometimes a progressive’s interpretation can not only accomplish all this but also successfully read a text for its original intent or spirit than a regressive theologian’s interpretation does.
But honesty also requires admitting that sometimes religious texts and traditions contain unmitigated evils and lies that should be wholeheartedly and unequivocally denounced and disowned, rather than soft-pedaled, downplayed, or rationalized to be completely true and perfect if only you squint, cock your head to the side, read upside down, and backwards, and say the pledge of allegiance while you read the text in Swedish. Sometimes even metaphorically read, the basic themes of the Bible are still problematic.
I think it would be far better if critically thinking religious people just joined the more religious of humanists in breaking free of all fealty to received theistic traditions. Stop giving obsolete traditions the support of numbers and the appearance of monopoly. Contribute to a counter-force of rationalistic religion that foreswears all prejudices and rationalizations altogether. Promote truly open-ended, scrupulously rational, free thought instead.
When I finally freed myself from Christianity, the intellectual freedom to truly think for the first time with no fears of changing my mind anymore was the greatest gift I’ve ever given myself. I get people want to stay religious because they enjoy rituals and symbols and myths. But these should not have to come at the cost of depriving oneself of mental liberation.
Meanwhile I see so many halfway liberated minds still dragging around the chains they grew up with or grew into. And the most annoying and ludicrous thing they do is try to whitewash Jesus endlessly, resolved at all costs to preserve his status as a uniquely and irreplaceably morally brilliant thinker and human, even were he not God. Even atheists mouth banalities about how they didn't think Jesus was God but of course he was still a great moral teacher who said some great things that it would be nice if Christians would actually follow. And in this I usually hear only deference to Christian power in another form. Or at least a concession that Christian power has to be carefully worked within to persuade any Christians. When liberal believers or non-believers are going to still trip all over themselves to find some way, consistent with their disbelief in Jesus's divinity, to still be respectful of Jesus, I hear the undue hegemony of Christianity in our culture exacting mental tribute.
I want people's intellectual and emotional consciences to be freed up to read and respond to Jesus with the same kinds of critical responses they would have had had they never grown up in a culture that in the first place drilled into their heads that he was either God or, at least, had to be the most admirable moral teacher ever. Intellectual honesty and freedom of conscience mean no more undeserved inflation of Jesus's reputation.
I am not saying in an ideal scenario people would throw out every word Jesus said as automatically worthless or misinterpret even those good things attributed to him in the Gospels as evil. I am saying ideally all would read with the mixture of agreement and disagreement they treat others when reading them with no prejudice. And I am saying that in the current situation, Jesus's deification by all too many makes it too important that what is awful in him be warned against explicitly and what is good in him not be blown up and abused to prop up undue reverence for him.
Being a former Christian who devoted years of my life to literally worshipping this human being, proselytizing on his behalf, and dividing myself from all non-Christians emotionally on account of him, this is a serious sticking point. This is more than just a routine case of some thinker's ideas or character being overestimated. People by the hundreds of millions, maybe billions, down through the centuries have been systematically brainwashed into worshipping this particular person, and to sacralizing ideas, texts, institutions, and supposed representatives associated with him. When someone's veneration extends to these extremes of power it's a moral obligation to subject precisely that person and the institutions and ideas grown up around him to far more rigorous scrutiny than run-of-the-mill hit and miss philosophers get. The inordinate respect he receives, even by the non-worshipping atheists and extreme theological liberals, spiritually supports an outsized and falsely acquired influence, with power to be disproportionately destructive.
When the power of Jesus, the Bible, or Christian ideas and symbols is as extensive as it has been for two millennia, the negative impact of even small mistakes about facts or inadequacies in values is drastically magnified. And when hundreds of millions of people are unable to see through a centuries' long literal deification of a particular human and the institutions associated with him, and so mentally and morally subjugate themselves to that person or institutions, it is irresponsible for those who do see through it all to go on contributing to the aura of reverence towards that figure, rather than bluntly and unequivocally disabusing people of it.
Being aggressively and systematically deceived from childhood about the character of Jesus trapped me in delusions and blatant falsehoods that took away my ability to autonomously think and feel as clearly as possible about what was true and false and good and bad in life. Asking me to carry on mouthing platitudes about how awesome Jesus is, after that, is about as offensive as asking the escapee of a cult to never say a bad word about their former cult leader. It's like telling them even to go on singing his praises. Sometimes literally! It's like asking them to endorse others to vote him to stay in a position of power that he has held for centuries and which he used to ensnare you in the cult in the first place.
"So what if now you see he's not a god, why can't you at least admit he was awesome anyway?"
Because he claimed to be a god. Or at least “the way, the truth, and the life”, which is just as bad. And too many still worship him as God and surrender their intellects and consciences to him. So he was not awesome, is not awesome to celebrate, and probably never will be.
He is a weapon of ecclesiastical institutions. I understand the strategic impulse of liberals to want to take control of this weapon and use it for their own ends. I understand they fear that going up against nasty theocrats and other ecclesiastical authoritarians who are armed with Jesus without picking up their own Jesus to fight back with would amount to going to ethical war unarmed. But I for one would rather rely only on honesty and rationality themselves than keep the arms dealing churches in business in perpetuity.
And, finally, I'm going to be very honest, even if my assessment maybe is harsh or not as widely applicable as it feels to me. I am troubled to see so many liberal believers who were once fundamentalists who seem to be suffering from a spiritual and intellectual analogue to Stockholm Syndrome. The endless desperate contortions to justify their religious traditions and to preserve their identity within them resonate as all too familiar to me from my days as a Christian doing anything I could to stay believing, while terrified of ever leaving. Maybe some theological liberals are really emotionally and intellectually free and clear-eyed. Maybe some are just calculating political operatives who are just determined to beat their faith from within, rather than launch a full frontal assault from the outside and get mowed down as a clear enemy. Maybe I'm just projecting my former rationalizing religious self into them. But, nonetheless, all too often I feel like those liberalized former evangelicals are in arrested spiritual development; and that they are simply unable to grow up into apostasy, all because of an irrational but psychologically understandable incapability to imagine life beyond their captor's reaches.
Daniel Fincke has his PhD in Philosophy from Fordham University. He blogs at Camels With Hammers and Empowerment Ethics. He is now accepting enrollments in his interactive philosophy classes, which he holds through video conferencing sessions online and makes available to the general public. You can friend him on Facebook.
Written By: Dan Finckecontinue to source article at