Monday, April 24, 2017

Ross Douthat's Sermon on Religions for Liberals And Echidne's Counter-Sermon

(This post consists of a coleslaw of thoughts.  I'm trying to write myself out of my blogger's block.)

Did you read Ross Douthat's advice in his Easter Sunday column to all those secular liberals (1)?  That they should go back to church, back to their Protestant roots, so that the so-called Mainline churches could be saved?

Our Ross would prefer all of us to join his type of extreme Guy-Catholicism, of course, because that's the only narrow door to salvation, according to him.  But if secular lefties cannot go quite that far, then they should go back to their wishy-washy loving-kindness churches which are currently suffering  from graying and diminishing congregations.

Why Ross would want that I don't know.  I'm guessing that he had a deadline and had to write something appropriate for Easter, because he also states this:

As a conservative Catholic, I have theories about how this collapse reveals the weaknesses of liberalism in religion.
Let me guess:  Ross likes the war or thunder god of the Old Testament and the types of religious rules which ossified the social hierarchies prevalent in Middle Eastern nomadic cultures a thousand or two thousand years ago.  He likes the idea of a ready-made fixed set of divine rules which inconvenience others a lot more than they inconvenience him.  He likes to be told what god wants, by intermediaries who are almost totally old men, both now and through history.

In that he shares with many other fundamentalists.

I have tried to understand the fundamentalist mindset, but mostly in vain.  I can  imagine what a relief it could be to have a rule book for one's whole life, with a guaranteed entry ticket to heaven or paradise at the end of it, but I can't stop myself seeing how human-directed many of the rules in the Bible or the Quran are, and how terrible they tend to be for women.  Once those rules are treated as divine commands, well, we are f**ked if we do and f**ked if we don't,  we wimmenz.

I was eleven when I read the Bible from cover to cover.  Much of it I experienced as great literature, some of it as wonderful poetry, many of the ethical and moral commands I felt were praiseworthy, and later I had some similar positive experiences when reading the Quran.

But the social rules about gender and homosexuality in both books are clear mirrors of pure human desires and intentions to maintain a certain pecking order inside the culture, and it's not hard to see (2) that they were influenced by the existing societal norms of that era, as was the acceptance of slavery as an institution.

Anyway.  Ross appears to be comfortable with the basic pecking orders of the three Abrahamic religions.  My eleven-year old self was not,  and that has not changed with the passing of the time.  As you may have noticed if you have read me before.

So should I join one of those Mainline churches?  The basic blueprint consists of the same book that Douthat uses, after all.

And what if my roots are not all in Christianity (3)?  What about all the other secular liberals whose roots are in other religions?

Douthat's main point is something more interesting than all my religious musings, however.  He argues that the old values of the Mainline churches have now become mainstream American values, and that may be the reason why liberals aren't that willing to sit in the pews any longer:  They won.

But be warned:

As the sociologist N. J. Demerath argued in the 1990s, liberal churches have suffered institutional decline, but also enjoy a sort of cultural triumph, losing members even as their most distinctive commitments — ecumenical spirituality and a progressive social Gospel — permeate academia, the media, pop culture, the Democratic Party. 

But this equilibrium may not last, and it may not deserve to. The campus experience of late suggests that liberal Protestantism without the Protestantism tends to gradually shed the liberalism as well, transforming into an illiberal cult of victimologies that burns heretics with vigor.
Fun stuff!  Ross talks to us from his illiberal version of Catholicism and warns us of the dangers of the illiberal excesses of "political correctness":  The no-platforming of all sorts of speakers in the UK universities, the angry protests against Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter on US college campuses.

I love that bridging leap, even though it's a bit illogical.  I can't see how the Mainline churches would fix those problems, but it's good filler for the column.

And would attending a wishy-washy Mainline church help with salvation after death?  Douthat seems to suggest that it would:

I know you don’t worry about hellfire. But you do worry, presumably, about death: Would some once-weekly preparation really hurt?
Do those churches rehearse death?  I've read on the value of meditating on one's death, so perhaps that's what he means.  Or he might just mean that those entry tickets to heaven are sold even in liberal churches.

This post should be finished with something more positive about religions.

I distinguish between religions as moral and ethical codes, crafted with a lot of cooperation by earlier religious powers, mostly men, and religions as spiritual sources of joy, comfort and support.  I also distinguish between the great institutional powers of religions which have been used and still are used for both bad and good, and the desires for individuals to believe in something vaster, something meaningful, to not feel that the universe is a random and unfeeling force.

And I understand those who humbly seek some higher meaning in their lives.  I'm just not very comfortable with those who firmly believe that they, and they alone, have found that meaning.


(1)  I have to write "those," rather than "us," because I'm a goddess which in a weird way means I'm into religion, right?

(2)  For me, at least.  When I was eleven I read that the man is always the head of the woman in marriage, and I immediately asked myself why that would have to be the case.

What if he was a drunkard?  A wife-beater?  Incapable of making a living?  What if she was a lot wiser and more capable than he?  Why was a partnership not allowed?

Then I read about the pretty horrible treatment of women in the Old Testament, beginning with the stories of Jacob's wives who were essentially bought by Jacob in a deal from their father, together with their "handmaids (slaves)." 

And then I applied an alternative explanation to these stories, one which was based on the worldviews of men of that era.  It simply made more sense to assume that the Bible reflected the hopes and desires of believing men rather than some eternal rules by a divine (and arbitrary) power.  Thus, what the Bible now contains is the product of those who wrote it down and what it does not contain is also the product of religious men early in history who decided which writings were apocryphal.

My views on the Quran are similar.  Both the Bible and the Quran praise certain kinds of violence, accept slavery and impose a second-class status on women, and those are parts of the books which follow from the cultures in which they were written down, as well as from the war or thunder god era of religious movements. 

That there is so much good in these two books is, of course, a great achievement.  But the voices of women have not had much effect on how the three Abrahamic religions have developed.  For one example, check out which parts of the human body are supposed to be covered for men and women in certain interpretations if Islam.

(3)  Here's something fun for you to contemplate:  My father's paternal grandmother was the last shaman of her hereditary female line.  And no, I'm not appropriating someone else's religious beliefs by writing that down (heh)!   I'm appropriating my own religious ancestry.  Both the Lapps and the Finns used to have shamans.  Perhaps I should get my own drum and rattle?