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Darrel Manson

Progressive Christianity

54 posts in this topic

What Buckeye said.

And people get killed for saying other religions are true as well. That people are killed or are willing to die due to the faith that they subscribe to is hardly a testament to the truthfulness of the belief.

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What Buckeye said.

And people get killed for saying other religions are true as well. That people are killed or are willing to die due to the faith that they subscribe to is hardly a testament to the truthfulness of the belief.

But it would seem to be a testament against trying to square whatever was the deal of the guy on the cross with the gospel of "true that for you, true this for me."

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What Buckeye said.

And people get killed for saying other religions are true as well. That people are killed or are willing to die due to the faith that they subscribe to is hardly a testament to the truthfulness of the belief.

No, but it's a testament to the belief that their faith is true vs. other faiths. Nobody dies if it doesn't really matter, if it's all nothing more than different ways of arriving at the same truth.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Beautiful! What an echo! (echo echo)

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What Ryan H and SDG and Andy said.

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Apologies. I am a bit touchy on the whole "people are willing to die for it" line of reasoning, just because I have seen many folks-not just Christians, but still mostly religious people- use "willing to die" as some great trump card, as if it proves the truthiness of their belief system. As if it settles it. I am willing to die for Jesus. Bam! That settles it. And it leaves me bewildered.

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No need to apologize. The handy rebuttal to the "willing to die therefore is true" is the sarin gas guys from Tokyo. If I remember reading Borg correctly, there's little interest in arguing the confrontational nature of Jesus' message--its a priori confrontational, and the Romans were a bloodthirsty occupying power that needed little excuse to enforce capital punishment.

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Isn't this all a bit irrelevant, though? We tend to think that the following two questions are the same questions:

1. What is the relationship between the truth claims of Christianity and the truth claims of other religions?

2. What is the relationship between Christianity and other religions?

These are not the same questions. They are incredibly different questions. And they are both important questions, though the former is significantly more important than the latter.

The first questions is actually several questions. It a question of theology, regarding the nature of the exclusivity of the gospel as presented by Jesus. It is a question of language, regarding the ability of language to present univocal or equivocal truth claims about our relationship to the divine. And it is a question of history, regarding the fact of the death and resurrection of Christ and our ability to correctly exegete his explanation for these events.

The second question is entirely different. In this context, it is a sociological question searching for a description of how different faith communities relate in a democratic environment. It is a question that attempts to look at the social polity of two different religions (which expresses itself in a religion's characteristic doctrine, rites of passage, ritual, etc...) and determine the probability of successful co-existence. A necessary condition of answering this question is at least temporarily treating all religious language and behavior as social phenomena. This is specifically what makes these two questions so different.

(For example: When this second question is asked of Hinduism and Islam in certain parts of India, for example, the answer is a resounding no. When asked of Christianity and Islam in America, the answer has been a hesitant yes.)

The problem I see with this statement of Progressive Christianity (which is just classic Prot. liberalism) is that they conflate the two questions and emphasize the second one. The problem of Evangelical Christianity (and even fundamentalist Christianity to a greater degree) is that they conflate these two questions and emphasize the first one. Both are mistakes that have different, but metastatic consequences.

Edited by M. Leary

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Brilliant, MLeary. And a third question: What is the relationship between adherents of Christianity and adherents of other religions? (And, to a lesser degree, between adherents of different forms of Christianity and one another?)

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That is ultimately the very important practical (and pastoral) question that arises from a proper estimation of the second question. Our personal responsibility as people who espouse religious belief in a democratic society is to determine our ability to relate socially to people that have aligned themselves with competing truth claims. That spectrum of answers here runs from militia/cult to protestant liberalism.

How do we practice exclusivist theological truth claims as socially inclusivist people? I go with Yoder on this one. We are called to exclusively embody a cruciform ethic in the public square. This cruciform behavior is inherently inclusive socially, as it is based on a Christological pattern of hospitality and invitation (this is essentially Milbank's argument that Christianity is more liberal than liberalism). But it is not inclusive linguistically, because it is only the language of the cross that permits true hospitality.

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Re: the "truth" of other religions, I certainly believe that there are elements of truth in other religions, that there are aspects of those religions that I would do well to learn and emulate, and that I should respect those who hold beliefs that are different from mine. But that doesn't mean that I believe that all religions are equally true. They teach different, and sometimes contradictory, lessons about the most importanct issues we all confront. How could they be equally true?

I think I must have been unclear - I think that's pretty similar to the point I was trying to make.

I would try to make the point again, but it looks like there are a whole load of other posts below yours, some of them by Mleary, which probably means that mine would be redundant.

But basically, I am saying that there is a kind of 'cheap relativism', which costs you nothing, is not attained through any difficult encounters with difference, etc, and so is largely facile. And that it's just a weird mirror image of fundamentalism. I kind of sense that you would agree with that, although feel free to correct me.

As for the form/content thing, I was just trying to be clever. (Although, it does seem interesting: fundamentalism fixes definitively the content of truth, careless liberal relativism fixes definitively the form of truth, so that the content doesn't matter, both avoid any real traumatic encounter with difference. I'll try to make that make sense to someone other than myself another time...)

Edited by stu

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God simply is, without competition. And this has to play out in how truth comes into the world. Truth is not true by virtue of 'beating' other potential truths into a status of falsehood. The whole of Christianity has a non-competitive logic. The incarnation can only be grasped through a non-competitive logic: Jesus can be fully human and fully God, his divinity is not in competition with human nature, nor does human nature become any less human by becoming divine.

This doesn't seem to grapple honestly with the crucifixion. Without comment on the meaning of the crucifixion as a theological event, the mere presence of it as a key component of the early Christian witness invokes a competitive truth claim vis a vis the Roman emperor cult.

That is to say, nobody gets killed for saying my truth is okay, your truth is okay. They get killed for saying stuff like, the kingdom of god is at hand.

I get your point, I think.

I guess it's a bit off topic. But basically, as I see it the 'non-competitive logic' of Christianity is a philosophical point (it's Kathryn Tanner's phrase, I think), and not at all incompatible with the sense that Jesus's kingdom really does challenge existing systems of valuation, or that Jesus' message was confrontational in some sense (although I tend to think that the confrontation comes largely through the social element, rather than any 'truth-claim' element).

Simply, what I am saying is this: the incarnation requires a different understanding of truth, in which competition is not the starting point, because Jesus demonstrates and makes possible a harmoniousness between divinity and humanity. For humans to become like God means for humans to become fully human, hence Jesus is the human being (i.e. 'the son of the man', or 'the human one', or however you translate it).

I guess I am saying that this is so important that it has to play out at every level, including how we negotiate religious differences, how we construe the significance of these differences, including how we imagine that the truth-events that gave birth to the insight relate to contemporary ideas.

So, with that in mind, here is my question for Mleary:

What stops the first question becoming the second question, and the second question insinutating itself within the first?

You need a particular understanding of truth to distinguish the two questions, I think. In order to abstract the question about 'truth claims' out of real human interaction, so that one can have a theory of how the truth-claims of Christianity relate to the truth claims of another religion that is separate to one's sense of how the two should or could interact polically or socially, you have to have a particular understanding of truth claims. It is a particular understanding of truth that allows one to separate the questions, I think.

Or put differently, simply being able and willing to temporarily treat beliefs as social phenomena, so as to better understand interaction, already supposes that one believes that the second question is more important than the first, which changes one's attitude towards 'truth-claims'.

I would want to highlight that the Christian account of the emergence of truth into the world includes a story that involves a very real change in how religious groups related to each other: the inclusion of the gentiles into the Jewish promise, the conversion experiences of both Peter and Paul.

Since we're quoting Milbank, in an essay from 'Being reconciled', he writes:

'If there is truth, then it must apply universally, and the truth of one thing must be compatible with the truth of all other things. But this is peace. In consequence, there is only an echo of peace amongst human beings when their partial concensus mirrors eternal peace.'

I like this, but would probably take it differently to how Milbank intends it. I'm struggling to say exactly what I mean here, but something like this: the model we have for how we, as Christians, should relate practially to people of other faiths must have some correlation to how we imagine the interaction of 'truth claims', because in the Christian story - as I am coming to read it - truth emerges through the negotiating of difficult change in relationship between groups.

I guess I don't see how you can affirm on the one hand that the Christian message is cruciformly inclusive socially, and yet at another level, exclusive. In practice, changes in how and what is included socially tends to lead to people finding, through negotiation, shared ways of talking and thinking about things, because one always wants to be understood by the others one is surrounded by, eating with, etc. The business of finding an agreed doctrine, for example, is always about real relationships, never simply abstract concern for an accurate presentation of the truth of things. Because linguistic expresions of truth are designed to produce or encourage reactions in human beings, to release certain forms of behaviour. Doctrines are servants of humans, not vice-versa.

I'm not saying that you can simply dispense with the truth-as-correctness, and remain in the suspension of truth so as to view beliefs as social or relational events, but that we can't separate the two.

And also, that this really is relevant, because people are killed for saying all kinds of things, like 'there are seven sacraments, not two' or 'there are two sacraments, not seven'. I can easily imagine a context in which someone ended up being killed for saying 'my truth is ok, your truth is ok'. Just as we don't know what the world would be like if non-violence were adopted as a means of bringing about change, we don't know what the religious landscape would be like if non-violence and non-competition were brought into the realm of truth.

Ghandi said that violent action was better than cowardice, but non-violent action was better than violence. I guess I'm struggling to articulate something similar at the level of interaction of truths.

Edited by stu

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Some excellent points have been brought out in this discussion... so here's a bit more for the mix.

The basis of any dialogue is our common human need. Religion, politics, human sciences, etc, may all propose solutions to these human needs, and I can certainly accept that adherents are sincere in their beliefs, but if different religions claim to solve the same human need, then it makes sense that some would do this better than others.

Last week, for example, I switched away from the 'uber-violent' tv show Human Target to watch a little bit of the PBS show on The Buddha. I caught the part where the Buddha sees his wife nursing his infant son and realizes that if he holds his son he will feel pain upon letting him go. At that point, Sid. turns around and leaves his wife and son forever. Upon leaving, he's met by the goddess of Desire who promises him that if he goes back, he'll have great power. He rejects desire utterly. Instead of fulfilling human needs (that for love, community, accomplishments, paternity), this story suggests a way of evading or deleting these needs.

Similarly, this 8-fold law of progressivism treats religious needs as sentimental: since God is unknowable, one image is equivalent to any other. Whereas, if religion is rooted in a human need, then it is not plausible to claim that two ways are equal any more than it would make sense to claim that high fructose corn syrup is equally nutritious as spinach (#2). In addition, I am competent to testify only to what I have received, and I do not have the competence to reassure others that their way is just as valid, and will make them as happy as I am.

#6 specifically affirms that the need of religion is impossible to satisfy - as if hunger were its own end instead of food.

I saw Milbank mentioned (haven't read him, alas). I would also mention some other approaches to pluralism and dialogue. Hans Urs von Balthasar has a little book which discusses these matters - Truth is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism. Dialogue is also at the heart of the book - The Journey to Truth is an Experience by Luigi Giussani.

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Some excellent points have been brought out in this discussion... so here's a bit more for the mix.

The basis of any dialogue is our common human need. Religion, politics, human sciences, etc, may all propose solutions to these human needs, and I can certainly accept that adherents are sincere in their beliefs, but if different religions claim to solve the same human need, then it makes sense that some would do this better than others.

But that is pure Weber, and I am not sure how far to go with that.

I never read Weber, so please explain how you're reading me. Would you say that religion has nothing to do with human needs?

Edited by Fred K

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Having reviewed Wikipedia: "Sociology of Religion", I see that Max Weber did propose a human need for theodicy and for soteriology, and that these needs become especially acute in Calvinism insofar as God is seen as utterly beyond human understanding. Instead, The need I'm referring to is more fundamental, a wonder in the face of what is and a sadness which Thomas Aquinas characterized as 'the desire for an absent good.'

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I just reviewed the post I wrote last night, and it is stupidly long. So here is the same question, condensed somewhat:

Isn't this all a bit irrelevant, though? We tend to think that the following two questions are the same questions:

1. What is the relationship between the truth claims of Christianity and the truth claims of other religions?

2. What is the relationship between Christianity and other religions?

These are not the same questions. They are incredibly different questions. And they are both important questions, though the former is significantly more important than the latter.

As I see it, the division of the problem into two distint areas - one concerned with the relationship between abstract 'claims' made by human beings, the other concerned with the 'actual' relationship between human beings or groups - already relies on a particular understanding of truth, in which truths are somewhat separate from the lives of the human beings who believe them.

I would rather say that really, there is just one question, the question of how peace is possible, and we can for convenience abstract one or another particular moment of this problem out, treating intellectual events as 'truth claims' at one moment, or treating beliefs as if there were simply 'sociological events' at another.

Does that make sense?

Edited by stu

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My head is spinning.

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Does that make sense?

Yeah, it makes sense. That second question is the fundamental question asked in any religious studies classroom. (You could swap out "Christianity" for any other organized religion.) I think you are right to say that as people who believe something very specific and exclusive about the death and resurrection of Jesus, we should not capitulate to the shell game that happens in academic religious studies, wherein all truth claims collapse into pleas for tolerance or whatever. That is a fraudulent peace.

When we flip back into the context of doing theology, I often notice that when people are trying to be progressive (or even reacting to something progressive), one of these two questions gets overemphasized.

So this:

"the model we have for how we, as Christians, should relate practically to people of other faiths must have some correlation to how we imagine the interaction of 'truth claims', because in the Christian story - as I am coming to read it - truth emerges through the negotiating of difficult change in relationship between groups."

Is a good place to start in context of doing theology. I think that this process of negotiation you refer to is not far off from the hospitality I referred to above.* But I am curious, which specific Christian truth claims emerge from processes of negotiation?

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But I am curious, which specific Christian truth claims emerge from processes of negotiation?

Hm. Niceo-Constantinopolitan Christology could be said to have emerged, if not necessarily from negotiation, at least amid dialectic between Nestorian and Monophysite views.

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Is a good place to start in context of doing theology. I think that this process of negotiation you refer to is not far off from the hospitality I referred to above.* But I am curious, which specific Christian truth claims emerge from processes of negotiation?

Well, I am thinking primarily of Paul's realisation that the heretics he had been persecuting were in some way allied with messiah, and the way in which the New Testament is formed in part through having to deal with the interaction between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

But I suppose more philosophically I'm thinking of the Girardian point that truth always comes from the victim, who can see the truth of the group one is part of, having suffered from its violence. Reading James Alison's work has really influenced me in this regard, especially the essay 'Theology amidst the dust and stones'. Alison would also say that the emergence of monotheism is best understood as a crisis in group identity, not simply as a sort of gradual realisation that this is the most philosophical viable route (which is how I think we are most likely to see it in retrospect). He wants to say that any revelation always occurs through, and as part of, some change in one's sense of belonging. Perhaps, putting a spin on Bonhoeffer, this means that there is a cheap and a costly relativism, and that Christian truth comes through the latter, as embodied by Peter being willing to countenence the words "kill and eat".

But to return to the point about the separation of the two questions...

Another way of trying to express my point would be to frame it in terms of the question 'what is really happening?'

So, two people are having an argument, say, if they're Christians about biblical inspiration. It's a heated argument, there's the beginnings of real resentment, frustration, aggression, defensiveness, etc. What is happening? What kind of description best describes the reality of the situation? Is it best understood in terms of two opposed sets of claims about the bible? Or as a failure of human understanding, acceptance, kindness?

Or suppose there are two different religious groupings sharing the same space, the same living facilities. They get on ok, somehow. They would make very different claims - if asked - about the nature of God, and religious duty. But there is respect, sharing, mutual concern. Is the best word for what is going on in a situation like this 'truth' or 'peace'? Or both?

What I find so fascinating about the Milbank bit I quoted earlier is the sense that peaceable human interaction actually the condition for the emergence of truth (even though it seems to me that Radical Orthodoxy fails to embody this, since it seems frames the history of thought as a history of strife...). The existential willingess to understand another human being is actually the condition for coming to understand 'life' better, simply because it is always through human beings that we hear any propositional truth, and because propositional truth only ever exists as a kind of moment in a human life, as a life event, it is something humans experience and do, closely related to feeling and practice. God speaks through human people and events, according to Christianity, not in some vaccuum of revelation, in which the lack of humanness guarantees accuracy.

Um. So, I suppose what I'm saying is: if any of this is at all right, then it must mean that Christianity has the capacity to interact with alternative truth claims in a very different way. I really think that it's insane to think that you can have an ethic of non-violence without a non-violent conception of truth. I don't know how this happens in practice, but perhaps no-one really knows yet, because in large part, the Christian west has been violent, its truth has been linked to, and led to, violence. If you see truth as emerging from strife, then I don't see how you can fail to see stife as necessary in practice given the fact of disagreement.

Whereas if you see the possibility of seemingly competing insights being combined, harmoniously, in the same way that seemingly competing human interests can often - with sacrifice, honesty, patience - be combined harmoniously, then you're not stuck with a picture in which 'reaching a conclusion' is a something like a moment of triumph, a solider planting a flag in the ground, but more like signing a peace treaty, in which no-one got exactly what they wanted, but feels unexpectedly satisfied anyway.

(That last bit was a bit weird, but I am leaving it in...)

Seeya

Edited by stu

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Well, I am thinking primarily of Paul's realisation that the heretics he had been persecuting were in some way allied with messiah, and the way in which the New Testament is formed in part through having to deal with the interaction between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

Absolutely. And we can take this further by pointing to Paul's narration of reconciliation in Col. Reconciliation is true for two reasons. First, the resurrection, which is Christ emerging from that negotiation between life and death/sin and judgment. Second, the church itself is the material means by which reconciliation is achieved on this side of the eschaton. The church itself is the result of social and economic disparities being addressed through local church practice. Our theology emerges from this historic social process. Ergo, hospitality.

So reconciliation is true not because we bear witness to it but because we practice it. It is meaningless apart from its own historical instantiation.

I don't know how this happens in practice, but perhaps no-one really knows yet, because in large part, the Christian west has been violent, its truth has been linked to, and led to, violence. If you see truth as emerging from strife, then I don't see how you can fail to see stife as necessary in practice given the fact of disagreement.

This is in part the legacy of the Schaeffer "true truth" fiasco which led to the murder of abortion doctors in the US. The better answer is putting that energy into creating local foster care and adoption systems as a means of bearing witness to the sacredness of life, which in turn is a means of bearing witness to the incarnation.

Great stuff, Stu.

Edited by M. Leary

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Thanks! This thread has been useful for me, actually, I feel like a few things have become a little clearer. Might post some more at some point, who knows...

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Stu - This talk of peace and hospitality seems a bit abstract to me. The encounter between Paul and Stephen is concrete (Saul, why are you persecuting ME?), but another encounter is also interesting: that of Monica and Augustine. Monica, the mother, urging her son toward the stability of success, marriage, and the Catholic faith; Augustine trying somewhat to pacify his mother while torturously trying to grow in understanding of the truth. Monica wrestled not just with her son, but also with God (and even his priests) - desiring her son's ultimate good but also trying to dictate the form it would take. What mother would provide only for her son's needs without considering his ultimate good? As a father I can't dictate the road that my children will take, but I would hardly be a father if I did not urge my children to seek out the greatest satisfaction in life. Paul was reconciled with the Christians, and Monica was reconciled with Augustine - only in the relationship with a third person who is victorious over both parties. Nobody gets what they want, to be sure, but the conclusion is not brought about through settlement between the parties on terms of their own understanding.

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Stu - This talk of peace and hospitality seems a bit abstract to me.

It is a bit abstract, I guess. But abstractions are necessary to get at the common patterns that emerge in life, aren't they? 'Human' is an abstraction, it just seems like a particularly useful one. Being 'a bit abstract' on its own doesn't give me that much to work with...

Paul was reconciled with the Christians, and Monica was reconciled with Augustine - only in the relationship with a third person who is victorious over both parties. Nobody gets what they want, to be sure, but the conclusion is not brought about through settlement between the parties on terms of their own understanding.

I agree, with the final sentence at least, but what I'm asking is - what is the nature of this 'third' who brings peace? How is this third victorious? And really, this is the question of what it means to speak in the name of Christ, and I am definitely not claiming to have an answer to that. Part of what I am saying is that since we do not find peace, or attain to truth, on the terms of our own understanding, as you say, it is necessarily found through some kind of breaking open of our own understanding, and since our relationship with God is always in some way mediated through real human relationships, this involves an openness to those who appear to be outside of the terms of our own understanding.

In other words, at some point, some slightly disturbing voice is going to say "kill and eat", and in our own way, we're going find that God was where God never should have been, where we never thought he could be.

(Again, this is all just rehashed James Alison...)

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