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.