Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Roland Boer, the Bible, and Secularism

Over at Religion Compass Exchange, Roland Boer has a post on Books: Stolen Bibles which raises some interesting and provocative points. Let me offer some thoughts in relation to Roland's post (at Roland's invitation!):

1. Roland assumes that the left is correct in their views and values. Now I write this as a social conservative and a proponent of a free market economy with socialist sympathies. I cannot join the radical left and here's why. I believe passionately in civil rights and defending the most defenceless which is precisely why I'll part with my head rather than consent to abortion on demand and euthanasia. I think high levels of government intervention in a free market is better than a communist system against the ownership of private property. Legalized drugs profits only drug dealers and prostitution, legal or illegal, is the most common means of exploiting girls under the age of 17. To give another example, Christian sexual ethics of celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage (despite the fact it's not uniquely Christian and is common in many non-western cultures) is not oppressive but is actually good for individuals and society in my view. Compare that to the sexualizing of children in recent art exhibitions in Australia and I'll chose Benny 16 over Bill Henson any day of the week! I'm not stupid enough to try legislate Christian sexual ethics for people who are not Christians, but I tire of being called a sexophobe because I belong to a tradition that values chastity, purity, and fidelity. (Note, none of these issues are raised by Roland and it's just my rant as to why I'm not a leftie).

2. What Roland calls the extreme religious right seems to refer to those who hold to teachings and beliefs that are centuries old (esp. in regards to sexuality, the uniqueness of Christ, belief in the authority of Scriptures, etc). The problem here is that you can become right wing just by standing still in 2000 years of Christian teaching! Roland also seems glabberghasted by the fact that the Pope is Catholic! If Roland wants to rescue the Bible from those who use it to support the Iraq War, oppress the Palestinians, oppose climate control measures, support American military and economic hegemony, and the right to carry arms and form militias - no objection from me and I'll give you an "amen" - but I think his idea of the religious right also seems to absorb those more moderate Christians who would adhere to what C.S. Lewis called "mere Christianity". Now maybe Roland has teased this out elsewhere, but there is alot of people in between the extremes represented by Liberation Theology on the one hand and those represented by the Rapture Index on the other hand. Most of us evangelical Christians are neither!

3. An alliance between the religious left and secular left? I see no reason why the secular left will ever want to make use of the Bible any more than the Vatican would want to make use of the Humanist Manifesto. Some secular groups (I think of the Greens in Australia) are determined to exterminate the non-religious left from the public landscape. The Australian Greens oppose the existence of Christian private schools and public schools having chaplains. The left wing intelligentsia preaches pluralism and tolerance but does not tolerate anyone who does not accept their view of religious and social pluralism. As for the religious left losing the Bible, well, the problem is not that they lost it, but they abandoned it. In the left-leaning American Episcopal Church their mission is based more on the UN Millennium Goals and Al Gore's home movies than on Scripture. Call the Bible a fractious and multivalent document if ya like, but in ecclesial communities it is a symphonic arrangement of voices that sing about the story of God, God's Word, and God's new world revealed in his Son. Perhaps this is what the religious left needs to learn again rather than taking a course on Marxism 101.

4. The pro-religion secular left (i.e. those who see religion as having a legitimate and helpful place in a secular society) would do better to partner up with moderate conservatives rather than gravitate to the vocal but impotent ultra-religious left and spend their time fighting the ultra-right. Despise the evangelicals if ya like for their opposition to gay marriage and abortion, their claim that Jesus is the only saviour, but take into account their philanthropic exploits. I know of more Christians Doctors who leave their practices and go to Africa and Asia than areligious or atheist Doctors who do the same (now there can be atheist Philanthropists, Bill Hayden comes to mind), but you're more likely to see the Salvation Army on the Streets of Sydney after dark helping the homeless than members of the Australian Humanist Society. As James Crossley and I concluded in our book How Did Christianity Begin? secularists and evangelicals can work together to enhance the human condition. Though we might disagree with what is enhancing (e.g. gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research) there can be agreement on fighting world poverty, HIV-AIDS programs, and promoting religious freedom. If you know of organisations like the International Justice Mission, Tear Fund, or Compassion Australia, then you'll see that the evangelicals have already gone ahead of you.


Joshua Dean said...

I appreciate your post very much. I am also frustrated with being a moderate who isn't necessarily supportive of American economic and military dominance (and other positions that ultra-conservative Christians espouse), but is still opposed to abortion and gay marriage.

It seems to me that American culture is rather confused when it comes to issues of human dignity and thriving. Ultra-liberals fight for responsible environmental practices and humanitarian efforts, but then support abortion rights and "freedom" from any sort of sexual ethics. Ultra-conservatives fight to defend human life when it comes to abortion, but then turn a blind eye to the glaring ethical issues present in America's foreign policy. What America needs is a vision of human dignity that values life and human thriving in all areas of life. I would go as far as to suggest that distorted notions of human life influence our views on political and social issues across the board. Abortion, contraception, sexual ethics, but also war, environmental issues, and economic policies, are all determined by a horribly inadequate view of human life that leads to the inconsistency on both sides of the spectrum. What is needed is a consistent approach that centers on what is good for human life and thriving. Having said that, I think it would be prudent of evangelicals to turn to Catholic teaching on the dignity of human life, which is beautifully consistent and gospel-centered in its view of human good. Apart from the ecumenical gains to had from such an effort, evangelicals could present to American culture a consistent view of what it means to human, a view that influences their views on all issues, not just a few that happen to be politically vital. By appealing to both the gospel and natural law, evangelicals can offer a perspective that is uniquely Christian but also accessible to a culture that is increasingly non-Christian, or rather post-Christian.

I agree with you that we need to work together with secularists on issues like the fight against poverty, AIDS, and religious freedom, I think that it is unwise to ignore those so-called "irrelevant issues" such as abortion, contraception, and gay marriage. Ignoring those issues will only perpetuate this liberal-conservative dichotomy that characterizes America, and those of us who transcend that dichotomy will still be viewed by the rest of American culture as ultra-conservative and out of touch with reality.

Anonymous said...

Mike, my response is at www.stalinsmoustache.blogspot.com.

Ben said...

Just one quibble from Probie (the American libertarian-conservative-PhD student at Durham): legalizing drugs would not benefit drug dealers at all. The black-market would be ended overnight and drugs would become normal commodities on an open market, thus dropping dramatically in price. I would not be surprised if drugs dealers and suppliers themselves would be the most strenuous opponents of drug legalization.

Without a black market, you don't need a massively expensive "drug war," people can seek treatment for drug problems more openly without fear of prosecution, prisons would be emptied of huge numbers of prisoners who have done no harm to anyone but themselves, and you would put an end to a huge amount of murder/crime/etc. that is based solely on the fact that drugs are illegal and worth so much.

Okay, that is all.