I am convinced that there is truth and beauty in all points of view. One such point of view – a particularly common one on the Bloggernacle – is the ‘theologically liberal’ (TL) point of view.
As I mentioned elsewhere, this label isn’t very good. It too often encompasses those entirely outside the point of view I’m going to try to express in this post. Making matters more confusing is that people that self identify as holding the TL point of view are often quite shy on wanting to share and explain their beliefs. So I confess that my attempt to put the TL beliefs into words doesn’t come directly from TLs, but rather from my own imaginations based partially on things they’ve actually said and partially on what they oppose rather than on what they actually say about themselves. Rare indeed is the TL that sticks their neck out and says, “This is what I believe!”
But I think that, despite this reticence, the TL point of view deserves more discussion, including admitting to the beauty that exists within it.
So here is my personal attempt to “make sense of it all” and to put plainly how I believe TLs view their own religious beliefs and narrative. For this post, I offer no criticism and would gladly take feedback from a real TL as to what I get right and what I get wrong. And, of course, I get it that I’m talking about one brand of TL and not all brands. But this is the best label I could find for my subject of interest.
I should note here that this was written quite a while ago and before I read Karen Armstrong’s book.
God, Religion, and Humankind
The TL point of view starts with the idea that religion is best analyzed from the point of view of how it affects the well-being of humans. TL admits that religion has had, and continues to have, a positive effect on humankind. Even in this age of science and rational thought, there is room to admit that religion can be an important spiritual component of humanity.
That is not to say that religion can’t also sometimes be co-opted for evil. Clearly this is true as well as in the case of the crusades or suicide bombers. Religion is, thus, more like a tool albeit one of the most important sociological tools humans have ever created. All religions are a mix of both the good and the bad throughout their history. The goal is to remove the bad and take the good and thereby take the religions of the world and purify them into the image of the very God they wish to worship.
TL focuses on humans instead of on creeds about God. But this doesn’t mean those creeds and beliefs don’t have important value. For example, one can imagine how, say, the Trinity doctrine really does teach us something meaningful about unity and oneness. Indeed, it might teach it in a way that would be difficult to comprehend otherwise.
The TL point of view does not claim that the beliefs of the world’s religions are wrong. It simply isn’t focused on the question of ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of such beliefs and instead is focused on ‘what can we human’s learn from this belief?’
Life is Special
In a huge lifeless universe, all life is both rare and special. And of all life, the self-aware mind is the most special of all. We are not like rocks nor even like ants. We are the self-aware minds that know we exist and can find the truth and beauty the universe has to offer us. Life can sometimes be scary and difficult, but every moment is a precious gift of the universe.
God as Goodness
God may or may not literally exist. But at least figuratively one can see that God represents the embodiment of our ‘better angels,’ that is to say our feelings of morality, beauty, charity, kindness, and perfection. This is something worth worshiping and dedicating one’s life to even if, in fact, it turns out that God is only a metaphor for these things. In this way, “God” is a very real force in the world. In this sense, all TLs believe in God.
We Must Weed Out the Evil in Religion
It is not only possible, but it is also our duty to weed out the evil in religion and to keep the good. This is done by searching out that which uplifts and edifies while speaking out against that which does not. The key way to do this is to care about others’ feelings through sympathy and empathy. We must put ourselves in the shoes of others and understand their point of view. Only then can we understand how to best succor them and apply the healing balm of Gilead on their wounds. Like Jesus or other great religious leaders of old, this is our first and greatest duty: to love thy neighbor as thyself and in doing so, we love God with all our heart, mind, and strength.
Religion Saves Us Through It’s Teachings
TL respects all the great religious leaders of old. These wise men and women stove to show us a better way through both their lives and teachings. In doing so, they revealed to us the true “God” (i.e. goodness and morality) and thus all are prophets of God.
By bring us these teachings – these revelations from God, if you will – they save us and bring us to God.
To the TL, religion plays an important role in encasing and wrapping up humanities moral teachings. Through spiritual stories and parables moral teachings are brought to and retained in the world.
All Religions Are True
Because anyone that brings God’s teachings into the world is a prophet, we accept all prophets, no matter which religion he or she came from. Jesus, Mohamed, Buddha, Joseph Smith, Mother Theresa, and many others all are the true prophets of God in a legitimate sense.
This being so, it is clear that all religions are “true.” We look forward to a future world where all the religions of the world can be united as equal partners in bringing God’s truths to the world without the need for exclusivity claims
Allow People to Believe As They Will
Though the TL accept the truth from qualified experts in their fields, this doesn’t mean everyone is ready to accept all truths right away. The TL believe that people should be able to believe what they wish. So the TL do not wish to force their beliefs on others. If someone is not ready to accept the beauty of a metaphoric resurrection, then let them believe in the literal one until they are ready to accept more truth and beauty into their lives.
Our Relationship to the Conservative Community
We are true though non-conventional Believers. We do not believe in expressing our doubts about the faith in Church because we respect the power of faith in the believer’s life. But we stand up for what we know is right, even if it means standing against our own religious community. We advance God’s ways both within and without our chosen community and thereby help purify our own traditions first, just as Jesus taught us to cleanse the inner vessel first.
We Have What We Need To Live Our Lives
TL teaches that human spirituality brings us real happiness, hope, and beauty into our lives. Even in the difficult things in life we can learn to stretch our minds and embrace the beauty therein. Though death is a tragedy, one can learn through prayer and meditation, to accept it as a part of life and to look upon that person’s life, however much they had, as a precious gift.
The Future of Religion
TLs believe that the future of religion is an enjoyment of the diversity of beliefs. When all have finally put aside the needless bickering between religions and have truly embraced each other as fellow servants of God, then and only then will we see that the real beauty is in the forest and not in any particular tree.
Science, History, and Religion
Religion serves an entirely different purpose than science or other types of scholarship. Religion is about the human spiritual impulse, not rational truths of nature. So it should not surprise us that science often tells a different story then our scriptures because they do not serve the same purpose.
Where the two differ, clearly TLs will go with the experts in their field. If science teaches us about evolution, we accept it because it’s the truth. If historians teach us that religious scriptures and history are not literally true, we accept those truths as well. But it doesn’t matter because they were separate magisterium from the beginning and never should have been intermixed. There should be a ‘separation of church and science.’
The Truth is Better than Our Imaginations
TLs believe that the truth is better than our imaginations. For example, Joseph Smith may not have been literally right, but what he came up with was still awesome and powerful. Joseph Smith’s teachings are even better when understood in this way then when understood as literally true.
Our Destiny: Truth and Beauty
Only by accepting truth can we most benefit humankind. Religion should not be about fear, it should be about hope. By looking forward with hope we can imagine and then make a bright and shining future for ourselves using truth. This might mean we have to leave some cherished beliefs behind, such as perhaps our stories of Adam and Eve or the literal resurrection of Christ. But in doing so, we move forward in truth and beauty and attain to an even brighter and grander future than was ever contemplated by the ancients. For the truth is superior to our grandest imaginations and in this we can over come our fears and attain to hope.