Saturday, 22 June 2013

Elitism and Impotence

To begin, here's a disclaimer. There are a lot of people who are lumped together under the "progressive theology" label that I hugely admire. Michael Morwood, Lloyd Geering, John Shuck, Don Cupitt, Norman Habel, Jim Veitch... to name just a few. I shudder each time one of the "bah, humbug" brigade tries to pass them off as anything other than the highly insightful people that they are.

But, as I see it, the movement (if it can legitimately be called that) has at least two major problems. The first of these is elitism: an inability to communicate in the real world.

The apocalyptic Jesus movement that arose in the first century was anything but elitist. It's founders were ordinary folk, and most of it's followers were illiterate. The demographic was young; after all, life expectancy then was nothing like today. And the fanaticism that inflamed the earliest believers was just that, a passionate set of beliefs. It wasn't a carefully cultivated mysticism, or the fruit of deep meditation on the human condition. We read those things back in, and the tale is probably the better for the retelling. But to do that is to succumb to well intentioned wishful thinking.

Progressive Christians today are a very different proposition. The demographic is overwhelmingly grey-headed, well educated and economically comfortable. These are, to generalise horribly, refugees from the kind of faith that characterised their younger years. While some of their contemporaries just walked away, these people began a process of high-minded accommodation. Tetchy old Yahweh was retired in favour of panentheism; a journey from God to Gaia. Concern over the biblical view of baptism, or suspicion of "worldly" pursuits like dancing or a glass of wine over dinner, was replaced with eco-spirituality, or one of the other causes that so appeal to folk who are keen to shine the healing rays of enlightenment into the dank, dark corners of a piety whose time has passed.

And good on them. But does anyone "out there" really care any more? If they did we'd see some sign of it. The result is that those of us who are attracted to the cause tend to end up simply talking to ourselves in a sophisticated game of "ain't it awful." And let's face it, it's a painfully earnest conversation, and therefore one that few others are willing to join. It's good to be Green, but really, what's the Bible got to do with it? There has to be some sort of irony in such an introverted approach grandly setting out to be inclusive. Some PC theologians (Cupitt and Geering spring to mind) understand this.

But there may be an even bigger problem.

Part 3 - Jesus in a Box.
Part 4 - Aromatherapy.


  1. It has always puzzled me why a group of people want to abandon Biblical testimony, revise God out of existence, acquire some New Age viewpoints and then label themselves "Christian". Is the Churchianity model so appealing that it is the only enjoyable option for these people. Couldn't they just be a philosophy club of some sort. Some, no doubt, fell afoul of their denominations, were silenced and expelled and now are playing the game of retaliation. And the revenge is not nearly so sweet if the moniker "Christian" is not somehow put into play.

    -- Neotherm

  2. This series the best introduction to the world of Progressive Christianity one could find anywhere!

  3. I don't doubt that there are people like that and I have come across some of them, but in my experience most of the Progressive Christianity movement is comprised of youth that are quickly abandoning the far right leaning extremism of today. Your characterization as grey haired old men and women who are economically sound. Many, many of us are young people who want to go out into the world and get our hands dirty by attempting to make the world a better place. And the Republican Christianity that is being sold to us just doesn't allow for our basic human empathy.
    Not saying that I disbelieve your article, but I just have had radically different experiences; and I am wondering where and when you came across this version of Progressive Christianity because I would like to study it a bit more.