Who's wishy-washy?

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Sometimes I stumble across blogs for one reason or another and read them cursorily, perhaps assuming that they are more progressive than they turn out to be. One blog that I discovered to be quite a bit more orthodox than I initially realized has cited a quote from Richard Rorty, a non-believer, as ammunition against religious liberalism. I think the use of this quote by an atheist against liberalism illustrates once again the sort of curious alliance of convenience that sometimes exists between religious orthodoxy and atheists, both of whom often share certain assumptions about what makes a faith "legitimate". Here is what Rorty said:

I'm delighted that liberal theologians do their best to do what Pio Nono said shouldn't be done -- try to accommodate Christianity to modern science, modern culture, and democratic society. If I were a fundamentalist Christian, I'd be appalled by the wishy-washiness of their version of the Christian faith. But since I am a non-believer who is frightened of the barbarity of many fundamentalist Christians (e.g., their homophobia), I welcome theological liberalism. Maybe liberal theologians will eventually produce a version of Christianity so wishy-washy that nobody will be interested in being a Christian any more. If so, something will have been lost, but probably more will have been gained.
Here Rorty shares the assumption that many orthodox Christians also share about what constitutes legitimate faith. Many atheists just seem to defer to the orthodoxy (or, worse still, fundamentalists) when it comes to defining what "real" faith is, and anything that deviates from that is illegitimate and probably just one short step from atheism. As Rorty puts it, such faith is merely "wishy-washy". Of course, orthodoxy by its very nature likes to claim for itself the sole right to determine what form of faith is legitimate. But it is unfortunate that so many non-believers will readily defer to the orthodoxy and implicitly accept its own claims for itself as the sole arbiter of theological legitimacy.

Curiously, John Shelby Spong was then offered up as an example of this sort of "wishy-washy" faith. The idea that Spong, who is one of the more dogmatic proponents of his own brand of progressive Christianity, is "wishy-washy" seems rather curious. One thing he is not is "wishy-washy".

Another curious thing is that, in the comments to that posting, it was put forth that when religious progressives find certain theologies objectionable, they are wrong to oppose them nonetheless, because the very fact that a theology is objectionable is itself an argument for its legitimacy(!) This same argument popped up again in a later posting in the same blog.

God forbid that we have a theology that makes sense to us!

11 comments:

SocietyVs said...

"it was put forth that when religious progressives find certain theologies objectionable, they are wrong to oppose them nonetheless, because the very fact that a theology is objectionable is itself an argument for its legitimacy(!)" (MS)

I can't stand these kind of debates with atheists or fundies for that matter - where there is no wiggle room except for the pieces of the floor they can see. Absolute joke if you ask me.

As for using Sam Harris' ideas that moderates and fundies are the same - is basically where this all leads to - and who died and made Harris' perspective fact? I have yet to see - in actual reality - what a Fundie and a liberal Christian have so much in common that they have to be linked - and I am out there testing this idea with more orthodox people than myself (who is very liberal) to find the merit - it never holds up. So I am whispering bullsh*t to anyone who believes it (anyone wanna bring their ear closer?).

As for the legitimacy of any doctrine within orthodoxy is truly up for debate - even the Trinity. I can't see why something is given validity because of the simple fact it exists and is espoused in the mainstream? That's like 'mob rules' or even the bending of democratic principles to say 'peer pressure' will decide the best doctrine.

Mystical Seeker said...

As for the legitimacy of any doctrine within orthodoxy is truly up for debate - even the Trinity. I can't see why something is given validity because of the simple fact it exists and is espoused in the mainstream?

I agree with you completely.

OneSmallStep said...

I'd be curious to understand why he sees liberal Christianity as wishy-washy. Liberal Christianity seems more comfortable with flexibility, and change, whereas conservative Christianity sticks to absolutes more, and doctrine. Perhaps this is a generalization, but it seems that liberalism relies more on experience, and conservatism relies more on the Bible.

I know that there are many conservative Christians who "know" the truth due to the Holy Spirit. But as soon as questions come up, as to the Trinity or hell or any of it, Bible quotes get pulled out as an explanation. The Bible says it, and that's that. (although I see them relying more on tradition than the Bible itself).

So does a lesser degree of us vs. them make a viewpoint wishy-washy? If you look at history, anyone who has gone against the mainstream is incredibly far from "wishy washy." If you run the risk of expulsion, threats, or attacks, the last thing you are is wishy-washy.

Andrew said...

"Many atheists just seem to defer to the orthodoxy (or, worse still, fundamentalists)"

I think that is because (and you did a blog on this once I believe) many atheists are simply the flip side of the same coin when it comes to the "my way or the highway" fundamentalist attitude. I am encouraged when I hear an atheist who has a larger world view. Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard is a good example.

Jan said...

So funny to hear that Spong is "wishy-washy."

Matthew said...

Yeah, I thought the same thing about that particular blog. I don't really know why I haven't taken it off my feed list. =P

Mystical Seeker said...

Well, Matthew, I have already taken it off my own feed list. After I got called "stupid" by one of the commenters, it became particularly clear that it was not a place for serious discussion.

Jaume said...

Rorty seems to belong to the same kind of anti-religion pundits that is all too common in Western Europe. Their aim is to make ridicule and deride religion, and liberal religion is a problem for them: it makes religion sound *reasonable*. It is the worst thing that may happen for the success of their anti-religion project. That is why they feel utterly uncomfortable with liberalism.

Mystical Seeker said...

Jaume, I think you've hit the nail on the head. Liberal religion is an inconvenient phenomenon that doesn't fit into the world view of a lot of a anti-religion atheists. Its very existence calls into question their assumptions. Thus they often react the way Rorty does.

Jaume said...

We agree.

Regarding your link list: Rather than the Servetus Society, a web mostly made by one individual and which has not been updated for months, may I suggest that you include a link to the Michael Servetus Institute, which is the institution that preserves Servetus' memory and birth house in Spain? The address for English is http://www.servetus.es

Sorry for using this area but I could not find any e-mail or form to write to you personally. Thanks for considering it.

Mystical Seeker said...

Jaume,

Thanks for the link. I've updated the links as you've suggested.