The Religious Left

Yes, you read correctly.

The great German sociologist Max Weber once answered the perennial question of whether religion was primarily conservative or progressive in nature through a discussion of theodicy. His answer was that it can be either.

Theodicy is the philosophical problem of evil. If God is all-good, all-powerful and all-knowing, why does he allow evil in the world? Weber argued that there were two opposed answers to this question. The first was typified by Leibniz’ contention that we live in the best of all possible worlds. God allows just enough evil so that we can prove our moral worth. Unsurprisingly, this argument was incredibly popular among the Court elites in the 18th century. By contrast, the Anabaptist radicals of Muenster argued that God abhorred inequality and alienation, but humans had free will. But this free will must be exercised in line with a duty to unchain our fellow men and women from the bonds of oppression. Unsurprisingly, this argument was not popular with Lutheran and Catholic elites in the 17th century.

Both arguments have their late modern incarnations – in the prosperity theology of some Evangelicals (described by others as heresy), and in the liberation theology of some Catholics (not popular in Vatican circles).

So, as something of a corrective or a reality check to the recent blogosphere discussions on the influence of the Religious Right on American and Australian politics, courtesy of The Economist (link pay for view), I thought I’d draw readers’ attention to the Religious Left in America – appropriately through a link to a new blog.

Former Democratic Congressman, Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the US National Council of Churches (the peak body for ‘mainline’ Protestants) said recently that religious folk should be talking about “public values” such as poverty and war, and not only “private piety” – read abortion and same-sex marriage. The next four years could be interesting.

ELSEWHERE: A good piece on secularism by Chris McGillion in the SMH.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

It’s a marginally related point, but last night it was pointed out to me that the section of the Bible banning homosexuality also mandates whopping sideburns and fabrics to be made only from one fabric (Leviticcus 19).

Or, to put it otherwise, if one’s going to play the “literal reading of the bible” card, one should be wearing woollen sacks and not shaving or trimming the beard.

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

Large sections of the 20th Century left were always religious, Mark, in a non-theistic sense of the word. They blindly accepted various dogmas with a certainty which parallelled the certainty of the theistic churches, mosques and synagogues. Rome, Mecca, Moscow and other “centres of inspiration” had more in common when it came to accepting absolutes than any was willing to accept.
Marxist friends and colleagues treated with disdain, any attempt to suggest their alleged certainties not only weren’t scientific, but were actually acts of blind faith. Their church going equivalents were only slightly less dismissive of my failure to understand the obvious truth of Das Kapital’s then premier rival, The Bible.
One change that took place in the final decades of the 20th Century was the merging of many disillusioned “true believers” from both camps.
The Uniting Church, for example, was giving up God, Marx’s longtime physical death was joined by its metaphorical counterpart, and all progressives could join together in their efforts to save the world via saving koalas and condemning capitalism. The latter was especially important for some, as they had believed so long its destruction was a “scientific” certainty, and they hoped to have at least one of their dreams realised. Church-goers on the other hand, felt guilty about having believed in a Bible which told mankind to go forth and not only multiply, but also conquer the earth, that they desperately needed to make retribution by saving something — anything!
Religions be they theistic or non-theistic, are always fascinating. And often much better than Tarot Cards.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Jacques, let’s not forget Leviticus 13: 18 –

When a boil appears on a man’s skin, which, after healing, leaves in its place a whitish swelling or a shiny spot of reddish white, the man must show himself to the priest.

An attempt to take this injunction literally these days might have unintended consequences.

Norman, as I said in a previous post (http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/007579.html), I think it’s helpful to distinguish between religious and non-religious beliefs. Blind certainty is never a good thing, but it clarifies the debate to ensure that we’re talking about either religion or politics or their intermingling.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Mark & Jacques.
The passages to which you refer are about the Israelites.
They are a holy Priesthood and are supposed to get people to God because what they practice ( this includes teaching.)

These rigid rules are a cosequence of two points
1) They show how holy God is and his Kingdom
2)They are completely opposite to what is happening in ‘highly cultural’ societies in Palestine.

On a related topic although one of the passages does show homosexuality to be sinful A christian pointing this out would rely on Romans and 1v Corinthinians.

Graham
2022 years ago

… which both written by Saint Paul.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Homer – I was being facetious. You’ve made my implicit point, though – Leviticus is largely a book containing rules for preserving ritual purity (for instance the dietary prohibitions that are still observed by Jews) and only makes sense in that context. This is the problem with literalist readings of the Bible – they take a single verse out side its historical context on too many occasions. The same could no doubt be said about your verses from St. Paul.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

For what it’s worth…

1. Is the conservative/progressive dichotomy necessary to your argument? The right wing US Christians are if anything revolutionary in their anti-rational, anti-egalitarian, imperialist program.

2. According to that pretty good Compass series a few months back, some theologians have ditched the omnipotence assumption, arguing that God just wrote the code and let the program run, but is powerless to stop it. The question then arises whether someone that irresponsible can still be deemed all-good.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

James, a couple of good points.

In response –

1. I was half inclined to write revolutionary/reactionary but on reflection I decided that any set of religious beliefs which doesn’t harden into routine tends to be radical and perhaps that doesn’t neatly map onto that dichotomy. Progressive/conservative makes sense in terms of the way this debate is framed by the influence on US politics.

2. Yep. That’s actually not such a new position – it’s characteristic of the Deists in the 18th Century Enlightenment. The question of God’s “all-goodness” and the problem of theodicy tend both to get tangled up in the necessity/free-will argument – perhaps God’s leaving us alone (in Catholic theology, the absent God who no longer speaks directly to us after his incarnation in Christ – deus absconditus) expresses his goodness by allowing us to decide.

Adam
2022 years ago

Hey Mark,

If you consider the bible literally, and not literalistically, you’d have a much better argument. And then you wouldn’t be so surprised that the Religious Left exists.

Adam

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Adam, can you please explain what you mean by that distinction?

Also, I’m not in the slightest degree surprised by the fact that there is a Religious Left, only that it doesn’t get a look in in media analyses.

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

Of course there’s a religious left. If one grows up in a world where government and taxing are considered as natural as thunder and lightning, then the question is not “should we have it”, but “what shall we do with it”? At which point it seems to be a royal rumble of Old Testament versus New Testament types.

Adam
2022 years ago

Yep, no worries.

The Bible, is divided into many books, the books have different genres, (different types of literature) that need to be understood when reading it…the issue is context. eg, there is poetry, letters, law, prophetic literature etc. But also, the bible fits together as one whole revelation of God to us, and in that sense there is a development of the revelation.

So when reading the Bible literally, you read it with that in mind – you understand passages the in context of their own book, but also in the context of the whole bible. Thus the application is made clear by the context. [This, by the way, reveals the silliness of quoting Leviticus to snigger at the stupidity of Christians. You’re quoting the third book out of a 66 books. Ever considered how stupid it’d be to stop that far into a normal book? ;) ]

If you read the bible literalistically, you get into a whole lot of trouble. You read out-of-context and start making wacky applications of obscure verses. This is what a lot of fundamentalists do…ie stick to a literalistic understanding of Creation (it MUST be six days) rather than a literal understanding (ie appreciating it is Hebrew poetry and is not necessarily God’s exact blue-print of what happened).

Does that make sense? Come back to me if it doesn’t….

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

It makes sense, Adam. That’s broadly the way that I was taught to read the Bible when I was doing post-grad Studies in Religion. What you call the “literalistic” manner of reading – ie that practiced by Fundamentalists – is actually an innovation of the 19th century. Prior to the Reformation, the Bible was understood to have four senses – analogical, anagogical, moral and literal – with the first being the most important for the Old Testament. In other words, the Old Testament was read as a pre-figuration of the New and the literal sense was least important.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

In the USofA the religious right are heavily involved in the Republican party and the left the same with the Democrats.

In OZ there is not this divide.

for example in the war against Iraq all sides opposed it. The right, like me, opposed on firm biblical grounds whilst the left merely opposed it.

The same could be said for Refugees.

I do notice a divide between what Ken and Mark called the Fundies and the Evangelicals. This can be seen in the paper/website Christianity Today.

The E/s do not support Israel because of biblical reasons and argue the case of the injustice of palestinian christians.

dan
dan
2022 years ago

The religious left does get some media attention, but only on issues which provide that element of conflict and drama which make them reportable. There was a lot of view given to the religious left in relation to the melbourne c-a-s-i-n-o (sorry, questionable content on that word) campaign, the campaign against pokies and on issues of poverty, welfare and compassion. But in those situations their “voice” in the story is that of the reasonable everyman who is looking out for those less fortunate. The media use those points of view because they are a tool to beating up the government or big business and won’t alienate anyone.

The religious right gets a lot of media coverage in the so-called moral issues of abortion, gay marriage and the like because it is sells papers to both those that agree and those that don’t. Those that agree feel it is an expression of justifiable outrage, those that disagree are compelled by the wowserism and apparent inconsistencies in priorities.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Mark, the “literalistic” school of biblical interpretation considerably predates the nineteenth century. For example, Bishop Ussher’s analysis of OT chronology which led him to conclude that the world was created on October 29, 4004 BC was first published in 1650. However, your point that it is a relatively new phenomenon in Christian thought is still well made.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Alex, thanks, point taken – I guess I should have said that it was post-Reformation but really only came to prominence with the invention of Fundamentalism in the 19th century.

Dan, that’s some good thinking about the media in Oz. I think what’s happening in the States is that first the Religious Left are less well organised (though that may be changing in the wake of the election), and the Democrats have been tagged as the party of secularism (Homer’s point shows this is not wholly the case) and thus conservative/moderate Democrats have been playing me-tooism with the “private piety” issues.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Mark, re your original post – Leibniz, who believed that we live in the best of all possible worlds, was clearly an optimist. However, many pessimists fear that he is correct.

michael carden
michael carden
2022 years ago

Christian fundamentalism has its origins in the USA c. 1910-15 in reaction to the Social Gospel movemnt in mainstream Protestantism. In 1910, a grouip of Princeton Presbyterians issued a list of five essential dogmas which included biblical inerrancy, Virgin Birth, the atoning death of Christ and the resurrection. From 1910 to 1915 the Bible College of Los Angeles issued a series of pamphlets titled The Fundamentals in which these ideas were developed in response to the Higher Criticism then dominant in mainstream seminaries. It is from this point onwars that Christian (read evangelical Protestant) fundamentalism makes its start. I recommend Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God. Re the Bible, biblical inerrancy and the supremacy of scripture has never been a tenet of the Catholic churches, Roman or Eastern orthodox or the Catholic side of Anglicanism. Likewise, the great Luther never held to inerrancy either. Biblical inerrancy is a fairly modern invention.

Peter Murphy
2022 years ago

So is god a leftie? Sounds like He Is:

http://www.zompist.com/meetthepoor.html

You can argue that this is just selective cherry-picking. With the Bible as large at it is, it is easy to select a few verses that support your view, and ignore the other 100,000 that are neutral or hostile. The funny thing is that I don’t remember many verses like “Blessed be the moneymakers…”

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

This, by the way, reveals the silliness of quoting Leviticus to snigger at the stupidity of Christians.

Look, don’t get me wrong, Adam. I take the general view that inerrancy makes the Bible a difficult book too. I’m just pointing out that if biblical literalists insist on Exactly As It Is, then they should live up to that, huge beards and all.

Though I’m an atheist, I have a lot of time for decent, ordinary christians. It’s a good faith to have.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I’m indebted to my friend and colleague Michael for expertly clearing up some of the issues about inerrancy, literalism and Fundamentalism. My recollection was that its roots were in the revivals of the 19th century – based on a reading a long time ago of James Barr’s book ‘Fundamentalism’.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Michael,
A lot of scholars will be very surprised at your assertion wthout any evidence that Luther did not believe in inerrancy.

Justification by Faith then becomes irrelevant!

Mark they is a far better paper on fundametalism on the website that holds all of the Fundamentals papers.

The fundamentals which I think Mark was alluding was started in the late nineteenth century.
They were the mainstream of the day just as they are today.

The ‘left’ in the USA such as the episcopalians have lost so mamy people that they could well meet in telephone booths.
They assert the preach the bible but they don’t believe it!

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Homer’s comment raises some interesting questions. It does seem that the Pentecostal churches like Hillsong and Assemblies of God are experiencing phenomenal growth, while many mainstream churches (possibly not just those that Homer labels “left” and non-believers) are suffering declining attendances. I wonder why? Is it because the Pentecostalists offer certainty and simple, black-and-white answers, whereas mainstream Christian churches accept the inevitability of subtlety, complexity, ambiguity and the fact that every single word in the Bible shouldn’t be taken as literal truth? Maybe people think that there isn’t much point in devoting time to a religion which doesn’t offer simple, certain answers that avoid the need for thinking, doubting and making difficult choices on rational grounds rather than because your priest or pastor has told you what you should think. Or is it because many Pentecostalist preachers peddle a “greed is good” message sometimes known as “prosperity gospel” (see http://www.trinityfi.org/press/latimes04.html), which allows adherents to aspire to personal wealth without guilt: if they donate to the pastor, God will repay them with interest and in small unmarked bills or fully franked shares in the latest hot stock? Or are there other reasons? What do readers think?

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Ken, I don’t think it can be primarily the allure of prosperity doctrine. The other segment of the church which is growing rapidly is the evangelical church, eg the Anglicans in Sydney. Prosperity doctrine is anathema to this group. I think the main attraction is simply that evangelicals and pentecostals know what they believe, and aren’t afraid to let people know. The mainstream church groups, particularly those of the liberal camp, actually don’t know what they believe (if indeed they believe in anything), despite the best efforts of Peter Carnley and his ilk to convince us otherwise. In their hands the church would simply become another secular organisation, a bit like Lions or Rotary. And how popular are they?

On the issue raised by Michael, of the doctrine of inerrancy, the Princeton theologians had a view of inerrancy which was somewhat different to the traditional approach. Traditionally inerrancy of scripture was thought to mean that scripture was not in error in any detail necessary for salvation. This description was applied to all manuscripts, even where they differed. The theory is that God has acted to ensure that, even though human copyists are prone to err, the essential truths of scripture are still retained pure.

The Princeton approach suggested that inerrancy was a much stronger concept, that scripture had no error of any sort. However, this applied only to the original autograph manuscripts (which are, of course, all lost).

Luther certainly believed in inerrancy in the first sense. By contrast, the Roman Catholic Church in Luther’s day was more relaxed about the status of scripture, and more inclined to rely on tradition and the teachings of the church. Hence such doctrines as the Immaculate Conception and Purgatory, which don”t appear in the Bible.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Ken, a PS to my previous post: the other thing that churches experiencing growth have in common is relevance to contemporary culture. Hence upbeat songs with modern instruments, casual dress, a much more relaxed approach to liturgy, a focus on lay participation.

The twinfold approach of combining teaching based on a conservative, traditional interpretation of scripture with a culturally sensitive approach to worship and pastoral issues are also the reason for the explosive growth of the Christian church in Africa, Asia and South America. This also explains why there are so many conservative African Bishops in the Anglican Communion getting angry about recent developments in the Episcopal Church in the US, specifically the ordination of Bishop Robinson.

dan
dan
2022 years ago

I think part of the reason for the success of the pentacostal movement is simple marketing. Your Hillsong and other models, regardless of theology, are marketed around big events with a lot of beautiful people, feel-good inspirational thinking plus the idea that you are a part of something bigger. And it is relatively comfortable with relatively little call on your life apart from giving money. The experience can be rather intoxicating.

The figures I have seen (http://www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?docid=2280) suggest that the Anglicans are in decline, though a number of protestant denominations are in growth.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Dan, you are correct that the Anglican church in Australia is in decline overall. However, it is the liberal or high church dioceses that are in trouble. The Sydney diocese is experiencing rapid growth, as are pockets of evangelical churches in other dioceses.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Dan, your comments about the marketing aspect of Hillsong and other large Pentecostal churches are interesting. I agree that marketing is an important aspect of maintaining their current size and status, and no doubt it was important at some stages of their growth. But it doesn’t really address the question of how this churches started to grow in the first place. A church doesn’t instantly appear with hordes of beautiful people, powerful music and singing etc. These things have to develop over a long period of time. I stick to my thesis that the essentials are worship practices that are people-friendly and straightforward Biblical teaching.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

alex is pretty well spot on except the Sydney Anglicans experience consistent moderate growth.

The Pentecostals eperience strong growth. They do have a lot of chnges though. The people leaving are missed because of the people oming in.
My guess is their popularity is due to the experiential effect they have.

You get a high of singing , speaking in tongues etc which is all about your own experience. This unfortunately is not what church is supposed to be about.
Moreover prosperity based churches such as Hillsong are incapable of dealing with melancholly hence the large turnover.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Thanks for your correction Homer. I agree with your analysis of the pentecostals. The main deficiency is that they seem to believe that we should experience the joys of heaven in the here and now. If you don’t fit that mould, it must be a deficiency in your faith.

dan
dan
2022 years ago

Alex, I guess your comments reflect what I was trying to say – the point is I think that these places are an easy place to go. The message is not difficult – it is easy to understand, certain and not challenging or discomforting (except in a general self-improvement kind of way).

Whether large or small, worship becomes an excercise in creating a supermarket or convenience store (I have actually heard this used) where an attender can walk in and take what they want with little effort.

I wonder also whether there might be something in the observation that has been bandied around troppo armadillo lately that in a secular society we lack a forum for values based discussion. The only people talking conservative social and moral values are the pentacostal and conservative evangelical churches. There are lots of people with conservative views on homosexuality and gay marriage, abortion, sex ed and things of that nature who are not explicitly religious. So they may be attracted to denominations including the sydney anglicans, who have made a particular point of “campaigning” on these isssues.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Alex, on Purgatory, the doctrine as such didn’t become universal in Catholic doctrine until the Twelfth Century. In both medieval theology (eg Aquinas) and later dogmatic definitions, the Roman Church has seized on 2 Maccabees 12:41-46 as a proof text – not much use in apologetics against Protestants, of course, as they don’t regard that book as canonical. Hans Kung, the prominent theologian who’s had a lot of trouble with the Vatican authorities, argues in his book ‘Infallible: An Enquiry’ that many current texts of the Vatican are more decorated with biblical quotes rather than rest on biblical grounds – for instance Humanae Vitae, the anti-contraception encyclical. There is no doubt that tradition is vitally important in the Catholic understanding of revelation. In its most extreme versions, it’s a sort of two sources theory – the Bible and tradition/church teaching.

A fascinating book on the development of the dogma of Purgatory is the French historian Jacques Le Goff’s ‘The Birth of Purgatory’.

Ken, on the growth of Protestant churches offering certainty, the consensus in Sociology of Religion is that such churches grow precisely because of their difference from what is seen as an increasinly heterogenous, confusing, and value-less society. Two of the most prominent American Sociologists of religion, Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, in their recent book ‘Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion’ draw on Troeltsch and Weber’s typology of churches and sects to explain this phenomenon. Their findings basically show that the higher the degree of tension with the societal environment, the higher congregational growth will be. The dynamic is also reflected in the growth of conservative congregations leading to a less liberal denomination overall – which is certainly happening in parts of the Anglican Church. The other observation that’s interesting – based on large scale survey research of Catholic clergy – is that the younger Catholic clerics are much more conservative than the Vatican II generation.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Mark, yes I was aware that Purgatory didn’t emerge until the twelfth century. It’s always amused me that Catholics seem attracted to the idea of a second chance draw, in life as well as theology!

Your comments on church growth are helpful. The phenomenon you mention in Catholic clergy is reflected in other denominations as well, in Australia at least. For example, the Presbyterian church was fairly liberal-dominated in the 1970’s, before the formation of the Uniting Church (individual Presbyterian congregations chose whether to join the Uniting Church). Following that process, the remaining section of the Presbyterians were still often liberal in theology, but during the late 70s and early 80s their theological training moved sharply to the evangelical/reformed theological camp.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Alex, I’m not surprised by the fact that the same process seems to be occurring in ‘mainline’ Protestant congregations as in the Catholic church.

Btw – one of the other interesting things that came out from some reading in the US literature on Sociology of religion is the number of congregations who hire sociologists as consultants to advise them on how to grow. Not something I’m aware of occurring in Australia (yet).

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Why hire a consultant when you can buy a complete software and marketing package? See http://www.connectionpower.com/

michael carden
michael carden
2022 years ago

Homer: Justification by faith does not rely on biblical inerrancy. It’s about faith in Jesus’ atoning work not the words of scripture. Luther believed in divine inspiration but he was also prepared to remove the Epistle of James from the New testament canon and in his commentaries he can be quite critical of what’s in the text. The Reformation was sola scriptura which meant that scripture alone was to be the authority in the church as opposed to tradition or Papacy or ecstatic revelations.

Fundamentalism takes its name from The Fundamentals in the early 20th century. Of course that does not mean that prior to that date there was not conservative Christianity. MInd you a number of early fundamentalists, like William Bryan, of monkey trial fame supported the Genesis accounts of creation because they saw them gibving a greater dignity to humans than the Darwinian approach. They also feared that Darwinism had been adopted by elites – Bryan had a career of advocating on behalf of workers and poor farmers who were being screwed by big business. Bryan would not support prosperity gospel or the alliance with free market capitalism that is such a feature of contemporary Christian fundamentalism.

BTW prosperity gospel thnking is not a preserve of (some) pentecostals but is found across evangelicals as well. There is also a variant of prosperity gospel ot be found in New age thought as well.

Alex: You’re right on inerrancy. The Princton theologians repesent a hardening which develops further to the complete litaralism today manuifesting in ‘creation science’ etc. I wouldn’t say. however, that the Roman church had a more relaxed attitude than Luther’s although Luther and the Reformers did go for the original manuscripts approach. It was on that basis that they could change the Canon of scripture adopting the Hebrew BIble as their Old Testament ( but given a Christian ordering of books) along with the traditional New Testament. The Apocrypha, the books included in the Roman Catholic (or traditonal) Old Testament from the Greek Bible, were included as a separate category in Protestant bibles but began to omitted by the 19th century. Now it is rare to find a Protestant Bible that includes them at all andmost fundamentalists would not accept them as scripture.

The ‘relaxed’ approach of Roman Catholicism to scripture is the one that has been the main Christian way of understanding Scripture in both east and west for most of Christian history. The modern fundamentalist literalism and doctrine of total inerrancy is a recent invention/aberration. Interesting to compare, though, the parallel dev’ts of biblical inerrancy (infallibility) and papal infallibility. The latter was declared in 1870, about 40 years before the Princeton declaration, and both I regard as serious corruptions of the respective traditions.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Michael you ought not to say this without also adding that towards the end of his life Luther changed his mind. He ended up acknowledging that he’d misread James, and that rightly understood James teaches that it is faith which saves.

I am still mystified how Luther could believe this and not believe the bible is innerrant.
Actually I am at a loss to understand how any ‘christian’ could not believe the bible is innerrant.

how does God talk to them?

kyan gadac
kyan gadac
2022 years ago

Sadly, this thread has become a discussion about the religous right rather than the religous left as was our hosts apparent original intention.

Nobody has mentioned yet Vatican 2 and the fact that 40 years ago there was an active and powerful religous left that was the mainstay of the church at the time. Ideas such as ‘voluntary poverty’ were powerful motivations within both the Catholic church and many protestant denomninations.

Until the modern rise of fundamentalism, conservative doctrine was associated with the church hierarchy and radical doctrine was at the ‘cutting edge’ in the parishes and the missions. In fact many of the ‘evangelicals’ were considered by the church hierarchy to be on the left in the early part of the century. That was certainly the case with evangelical missions to Aboriginal communities in Australia.

The organised conservative evangelical movement, introduced to Australia by the Billy Graham Crusade(still holds the record crowd at the MCG) really only took effect after WW2. And it could be argued that conservative christianity took a back seat until the mid 70’s.

On the other hand, at least in Australia, the radical side of the church lost many members as a result of the 60’s, especially the Catholic church lost many of it’s radical priests and nuns. It was the Church’s hypocrisy about sex which the 60’s illuminated that caused them and others to leave the Church.

Sex,is also the driving force behind the growth of fundamental churches. It’s a safe place to meet a partner. Wilhelm Reich made interesting observations on this phenomenon during the 1930’s (he was pointing out why young people didn’t want to attend communist party meetings).

But the real issue that tipped the balance of power in the church and fed the fundamentalist revival was AIDS in 1982. As someone wise observed at the time, preaching hell fire and brimstone aint’ going to stop people having fun, but a deadly disease will make them want to get married and stay faithful.

As to the ‘wealth’ heresy, one really has to look no further than the 80’s, the ‘greed is good’ decade as it was described at the time. The coincidence between AIDS and the global state’s injuntion to ‘be greedy’, explains both the rise in popularity of the fundamentalist church and the source of this particularly perverse and twisted interpretation of the Bible.

But, hey. Christian radicalism is still alive and well. The ploughshares movement in America continues to challenge the state which insists upon arresting 70 year old nuns and throwing away the key.

Interestingly, although some here have disparaged the Uniting church as being concerned with ‘saving the koalas’. The real task of that Church over the last 30 years has been to highlight and work with Aboriginal people. This is of course unpopular in this country and since people are generally racist and prefer to forget about Aboriginal issues it’s easier to tar the Uniting Church with the Koala than address the issue substantively.

Mind you, Family First, did make it a provision of asllying with the Howard government that it make some progress on Reconciliation. It’s difficult to avoid that passage about a certain Samaritan even if you are a literalist in your reading of the Bible.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Thanks for putting the discussion back on track Kyan. Although it seems most of the mainstream churches suffer static or falling attendances, in contrast to the Pentecostalists and evangelical wings, they still do a lot of good work. The interdenominational Australian Council of Churches still has a strong voice on social justice issues, while the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (Frank Brennan and numerous others) remains a powerful advocate, although such organisations have needed to be a bit careful under the conservative reign of JPII.

Then there’s the traditional mainstream religious charitable organisations: St Vincent de Paul, Centacare, Anglicare etc. Not really “left” as such, but certainly a force for equality and social justice, in contrast to the “greed is good” and narrow private morality focus of the religious right.

In total numbers, the mainstream churches are still much bigger than the Religious Right, although if you add Sydney Catholics and Anglicans to the Right’s numbers with Pell and the Jensens in charge the numbers are much closer. But it’s inaccurate to view things in that way. There are still lots of Catholic and Anglican clergy in Sydney who don’t subscribe to the Pell/Jensen view of the world, and the same goes for many of the congregations.

The mainstream churches are potentially a powerful informal ally of Labor if it gets its message right. That means avoiding getting sucked into divisive debate about abortion etc, and continuing to put forward good social justice policies while avoiding the class-based rhetoric that alienated so many over the secondary schools funding issue.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Ken, I think it’s inaccurate to suggest that people with a strong view on the status of scripture (or even with a very literalist interpretation of it) are by definition uninterested in social justice issues. I would point to the Salvation Army as being the preeminent organisation which combines a very serious commitment to the Bible with an unmatched commitment to the downtrodden. And I suspect you could be surprised by some of the views of Pell and Jensen as well.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

As I said previously the religious left has been heavily involved in the Democrats yet this has been overlooked possibly because they have lost lately.

The Uniting denomination has had more than a few ministers endorsed as ALP candidates with Brian Howe proabaly the most high profile.

The suggestion that the evangelical wing has little intererst in social welfare is not borne out.

Anglicare in Sydney is one of the top welfare agencies moreover who spoke out on refugees, the Iraq war and aboriginal land rights errr the beastly Peter Jensen.

you might have missed it because he laces his comments with what the bible states.

On the other hand the bible is rarely mentioned when the Uniting denomination speaks on welfare issues.

Remember too in the UK William Beveridge was ably asssited by the later Labour Appointed Archbissop of Cantebury BIll Temple.

dan
dan
2022 years ago

As Homer points out, the religious right in politics is able or willing to be overtly christian and identify their agenda as religious. However, the left in general as a political scene is more irreligious and so would have more difficulty in allowing for example the uniting church to publicise their involvement in the democrats to too great a degree.

Note as an example Latham’s discomfort around the idea of religion. This explains perhaps the lack of profile of the christian left – they may well be doing everything that the christian right is doing, but they will not be wearing their “I am a christian” hats whilst doing so.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

From the Catholic side of things, the Religious Left has always been in evidence – the Catholic Workers, Jesuits opposing the Vietnam War, the Liberation Theologians, the French Worker-Priests in the 50s, even the statements on nuclear disarmament by the US Bishops in the 80s. Unfortunately, as the JP2 noose tightens (or is tightened by people like Cardinal Ratzinger), it’s tended to have to hide its light under a bushel of late.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Dan has hit the nail on the head so to speak.

It it hard for a person who considers themself a christian, whether they are or not, to organise themselves in the ALP because of the anti-christian feeling within.
Most on the religious left would be comfortable with the secular humanist philosophy as their goals intertwine but they would quake at the label of christian.
It is entirely the opposite in the Liberal party here and the Republican party in the US.

Moreover it appears most in power postions of both parties are nominal christians hence it is easier to play the game.

dan
dan
2022 years ago

If the so-called “values” debate is going to remain an issue in Australian politics, then the secular left needs to come to terms with the religious left and allow or encourage that message to be presented to Australia.

If we have the religious left and right in conversation as a part of the public dialogue (which only seems to be allowed in voyeuristic titillating issues like the gay ordination debate in the anglican church) then it will cease to become a question of who has values.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Homer, I’m not so sure that the ALP is so hostile to religion as you think – when I was in it (86-91), there was a fair bit of overt Catholicism in Labor Right circles. It might more be the case that the ALP is primarily a secular party – as the Liberal party has been until recently (not that it still isn’t overwhelmingly – but things are changing a little). There’s a bit of an irony in that Santamaria caused so much controversy by fears of a “Catholic plot” to take over the ALP and the Nation, then the DLP shifted a proportion of the Catholic vote over to the Liberal Party, then belatedly politicised Catholics like Abbott came to prominence. The Liberal party is now facing – on a small scale – over the abortion debate, some of the same pressures that tore the Labor Party to shreds in the 50s.

I think there’s much more chance of an overt and organised Religious Left presence in US politics where both the political culture and the decentralised nature of the Democrats as a party are more welcoming to such groups.

Dan, I don’t disagree with your point above and I’d like to hear more as to how you envisage such a debate being shaped and framed.

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

One important differenec between the U.S. and Australia, Mark, is that of belief in God. It has never been as relevant here as in the States. An interesting aspect of Catholicism in Labor last Century, was the lack in many of them of a belief in a deity. I worjed in the mid 50s, for example, with a member of the NSWALP Central Executive who was a rock solid and committed member of the Right Wing Catholic junta controlling the Party. He argued strongly for the Catholic cause in society in general; but he dismissed anyone who believed in a God as simply not thinking.
It always struck me that he was “religious” in much the same manner as the Communists I met.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Yes, that’s true, Norman. The US – in terms of the process of secularisation that’s common to all Western societies – has always been a massive outlier.

My impression at a much later time (late 80s/early 90s) was also that there were those in the ALP for whom Catholicism was a tribal/political allegiance rather than a religious one.

dan
dan
2022 years ago

Mark,

I think the thing that the debate over Family First has shown is that Australia is deeply conflicted over christianity. The secular left has long championed the voices of particular minority groups (including religious groups), but has aimed criticism at other minority groups. Some of those are only logical – for example the very rich or big business (although the latter has arguably come back to bite the ALP in recent times).

Similarly, religious christians seem to be anathema to the secular left – with the constant spectre of the separation of church and state being brought out to beat people with. I agree with the separation of church and state, but in Australian contemporary society this has morphed into an inability to own up to being an “observant” christian, lest one’s view be discounted.

All of this has completely hamstrung the right when dealing with an issue like the Family First party and the dominance of the religious right in taking ownership of the “morals” agenda. In the US, it would be much easier for the Democrats to reclaim some of their christian identity. But I don’t know whether the political left in Australia could do this. Kevin Rudd made a few statements along these lines but very “softly softly”.