Here’s a passage from my colleague Laurie Goodstein’s dispatch from this year’s assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the American nuns’ organization that was criticized by the Vatican earlier this year:
[The nuns] sat in silence for a long stretch, sang songs about truth and mystery accompanied by a guitar and a choir, and heard a keynote address by a futurist who was escorted to the podium by seven liturgical dancers waving diaphanous scarves of pink and tangerine.I’ve already offered my thoughts on how the spiritual trends embodied by a figure like Ms. Hubbard fit into broader trends in American religion, but let me put her LCWR address in the context of the mini-debate over the future of liberal Christianity that I’ve been engaged these last few weeks. Looking at the decline and dissolution of self-consciously progressive denominations, churches and religious orders over the last two generations, one possible conclusion is that their central problem has been a deficit of real, genuine belief, and that only a reaffirmation of historical Christian practice and conviction can restore liberal Christianity’s vitality. This is the roughly the point of the essay by the liberal Protestant historian Gary Dorrien that I’ve repeatedly quoted, and will take the liberty of quoting once again:
“Crisis precedes transformation,” the futurist, Barbara Marx Hubbard, told the nuns. “You are the best seedbed that I know for evolving the church and the world in the 21st century. Now, that may be a surprise to the world. But, you see, new things always happen from unexpected places.”
The nuns, most dressed informally in pants or skirts, gave a standing ovation to Ms. Hubbard, a beatific presence with a mantle of white hair who quoted Jesus, Buckminster Fuller, the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the current pope, Benedict XVI.
But if the nuns submit to the Vatican’s plan to overhaul their organization, it is doubtful that their meetings will feature a keynote speaker like Ms. Hubbard, who grew up a nonreligious Jew in a Scarsdale, N.Y., mansion (her father founded the Marx toy company) and is now acclaimed by New Age luminaries like Deepak Chopra for helping to lead what she calls the “conscious evolution” movement.
Liberal theology has no purpose or integrity as anything but a progressive tradition. Its renewal does not depend on selling out its critical spirit or progressive heritage. Throughout its history, however, liberal theology has made its strongest appeal when it fuses its two heritages with spiritual power. From its Enlightenment/modernist heritage it has emphasized the authority of modern knowledge, affirmed the continuity between reason and revelation, championed the values of humanistic individualism and democracy, and usually distrusted metaphysical reason. From its evangelical heritage it has affirmed a personal transcendent God, the authority of Christian experience, the divinity of Christ, the need of personal redemption, and the importance of Christian missions.Note that Dorrien is not calling for liberal Christianity to become politically conservative, to abandon its commitment to a social gospel/social justice view of how faith should be manifested in the world, or to cease engaging critically and seriously with modernity’s challenges to Christian belief. But he is calling for it to remain — or, perhaps more aptly, to once again become — recognizably Christian: Biblical and gospel-centered, liturgical and devotional, creedal and churched. In this view, the quest for social justice can’t be separated from the quest for personal conversion, institutions matter as much as good intentions, and no reinvention of Christianity can succeed if it requires completely reinventing Jesus Christ.
… To put it bluntly, liberal theology has broken beyond its academic base only when it speaks with spiritual conviction about God’s holy and gracious presence, the way of Christ, and the transformative mission of Christianity. That is not how a great deal of liberal theology has spoken over the past generation, to the detriment of liberal theology as a whole. In the past a spiritually vital evangelical liberalism sustained religious communities that supported the entire liberal movement. What would the social gospel movement have been without its gospel-centered preaching and theology? What would the Civil Rights movement have been without its gospel-centered belief in the sacredness of personality and the divine good?
When the social gospelers spoke of the authority of Christian experience, they took for granted their own deep grounding in Bible study, family devotions, personal prayer, and worship. Today the loss of the transcendental, biblical voice in liberal theology is one important reason that much of it gets little notice.
zaterdag 18 augustus 2012
Ross Douthat in de NYT
Zelfs The New York Times, misschien wereldwijd de grootste 'kneedster van de heersende mentaliteit', kan soms niet anders dan wat minder politiek correcte (maar waarschijnlijk waardere) inzichten publiceren. Uit een opinie-bijdrage van (de hier ook afgelopen juli al eens geciteerde) Ross Douthat op 9 augustus: