I ran across the blog of an author named Bruce Ledewitz who promotes something that he calls "Hallowed Secularism". Ledewitz rejects organized religion but sets himself apart from militant atheists of the Hitchens variety, instead advocating a sort of secular spirituality that is disassociated with the dogmas of traditional religion, and which allows itself to conceive of God in metaphorical terms, or at least as a kind of "shorthand way of claiming a kind of meaningfulness and order in the universe." You might think that I would be in broad sympathy with his goals, but in fact he wrote a critique of progressive faith that, unfortunately, reflects a set of assumptions about what constitutes "legitimate" religion that comes right out of the orthodox party line.
I do give him credit for noting the fact that "progressive" religion actually refers to two different kinds of faith--one that is theologically orthodox but politically progressive, and the other which is progressive theologically (and probably progressive politically as well). But when he discusses the latter form of theologically progressive faith, he unfortunately trots out the typical conservative assumptions about the nature of "true" religious faith--characterizing progressive religion as "insubstantial", having "few followers", and--this is where he goes badly off course--he goes on to assert:
It does not work as Christian thought because the empty tomb cannot be regarded as mere metaphor. It does not work as Christian thought because the empty tomb cannot be regarded as mere metaphor. That Christian truth is meant to be historical, even if mysterious. Jesus really must have arisen from the dead. Discovering Jesus’ remains would be a Christian catastrophe.Naturally, he is just taking for granted the definition of "Christian" faith that certain defenders of orthodoxy proclaim. In particular, in parroting the notion that a Christian faith cannot exist, or cannot somehow be legitimate, without a literal resurrection of Jesus, he seems to have let orthodox Christianity decide for him and the rest of us what kind of religious faith we are allowed to have.
When the pastor of a church that I sporadically attend was conducting sessions based on the "Living the Questions" DVD, I recall when she was concerned about how the people in attendance might react to Marcus Borg's statement on the video that it doesn't matter whether you choose to believe that Jesus was literally, physically resurrected or not. She had no problem with that statement, herself being a fan of Marcus Borg, but she was afraid that some of her congregation in the audience might find that statement unacceptable, or that it simply called into question their fundamental presuppositions about Christianity. Instead, it turned out that no one there seemed fazed by Borg's remark.
The very existence of people like Marcus Borg--who sells a fair number of books, who travels around the country speaking in churches, who blogs on the Washington Post/ Newsweek web site "On Faith", and so forth--calls into question Ledewitz's assumptions about what kind of faith can and cannot exist, and in turn it calls into question his assumption that the only way to find a "hallowed" life when you reject orthodox faith is by rejecting all forms of organized religion. Since progressive religion doesn't fit into his paradigm, he disses it as having no legitimacy or substance. This is a problem not unlike seen with militant atheists, who also casually dismiss progressive faith because it doesn't fit into their own paradigm.
The comment about having "few followers" is rather interesting in and of itself. (I wonder how many followers his "hallowed secularism" movement has.) In any case, this is not a race. There are no winners and losers here, based on who gets the most to sign up. Those of us who choose a path that is meaningful for us may just happen to do so because it speaks to our spiritual condition, not because we want to be on the winning team.
I suppose that the lesson to learn from Ledewitz's remarks is that it isn't just the militant atheists among the non-faithful who seem to have allowed a certain kind of religious dogma decide what is a legitimate form of faith or not.