This is an interesting article that I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I am fully with the author in her call for a radical, committed, active, counter-cultural, and fully liberal practice of faith. Those of us who go by this label absolutely have to get away from the idea of diluted civil religion that only serves as the chaplain to the dominant society. We have to get away from defining ourselves by what we don’t believe. We have to re-engage with our traditions, our sacred texts, regular spiritual practice, and active involvement in our faith communities.
On the other hand, the author seems to be calling for the kind of rigid legalism that caused many of us to flee from more conservative expressions of faith. Am I to believe that liberal religion should now mean pulpit-pounding, rule-making, and fear-mongering over issues environmental rather than pelvic? No thank you. As one who has endured the guilt and fear within fundamentalism, I can testify that it doesn’t work. It creates self-righteous, Pharisaical bigots. We would become the mirror image of the fundamentalisms we judge: compromising compassion and integrity for the sake of our own narrow-minded agenda.
What’s more is that the author’s stated end for these means is the increase of “political power” and “butts in the pews”. I don’t share these goals. An increase in attendance might be a by-product of a community’s spiritual growth, but it should never be an end in itself. The loss of political dominance in society is a blessing, in my opinion. It seems that almost all religious communities tend to be at their worst when they are on top of the heap. That’s when they tend to stagnate, persecute others, and generally sow the seeds of their own destruction. The marginalization of liberal religion has placed us in a position to actualize James Luther Adams’ vision of “the prophethood of all believers.” Small, committed communities of believers working in solidarity with each other have the power to change the world at the grassroots level.
What we need, in my opinion, is a fundamentally different way of relating to the Sacred. We must start from the place of radical grace and acceptance that extends from the inside out to include all beings (even fundamentalists). This, I believe, is the good news of liberal religion that has the power to transform and liberate.
That being said, the author’s core point is one that I’m on-board with. This article is very much worth the read, even where one disagrees with it.
Reblogged from Huffington Post:
by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons
If you look at any of the traditional markers of religiosity, we religious liberals are less religious than the conservative or orthodox. Liberal Jews tend to not keep kosher; liberal Muslims tend to not pray five times a day; liberal Christians have been known to have premarital sex. As religions have liberalized and modernized over the years, communal religious practices have fallen away and religious fervor has cooled. This may seem obvious and inevitable, but when you think about it, there is no necessary correlation between the substance of a person’s theology and the amplitude of her religiosity. We religious liberals have erroneously forged this correlation and, beyond just making us the butt of jokes, this has really cost us.
One thought on “The Religious Counterculture: An Open Letter to Religious Liberals”
I fully agree that there needs to be a continued liberal religious voice in society. William Sloan Coffin was one great example. Andrew Greeley (Catholic) and Will Campbell (Baptist) were two other great liberal voices of conscience. On the other hand, I think Rev. Levy-Lyons’ vision of “building a religious counterculture together” to “find our gravitational center” would in actuality be about as successful as herding cats. On yet another hand, I can fully relate to author E.B. White’s statement, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. That makes it hard to plan the day.” A healthy religious liberal lives with that kind of tension.