When I was younger I was taught (and fully believed) that Progressive Christians weren’t real Christians. They were dangerous people who didn’t want to sacrifice their comfortable worldly lives and so perverted the Church to make it more like the world. They were to be avoided and even despised for the harm they were bringing upon the Church. People who doubted the resurrection, those who sought to discover the “historical Jesus,” those who felt the Church should evolve, and anyone else who wanted anything that didn’t look like what we conceived of as “real Christianity” needed to stop confusing people by calling themselves Christians and just. get. out.
While my idea of what “real Christianity” looked like changed some throughout my adult life, the fundamentals always remained intact: the words of the original manuscripts of the books of the Bible are inspired by the Holy Spirit, the books were written by the people that tradition told us wrote them, the incidentals of each story in the Bible are factually accurate, miracles happened just like they’re described to us, the world is about 10,000 years old, angels, demons, and the devil are all actual beings that roam the earth fighting a spiritual battle amidst which we are caught, sin is real, hell is real, the need for “redemption” is real, the resurrection really happened, and people can really have a “relationship” with a man who’s been dead for nearly 2,000 years. All of that and more made perfect sense to me for somewhere between 25 and 30 years.
However, at some point in 2012, my faith began to waver. The things that had always made sense to me and had given my life structure and purpose just didn’t seem to connect with me anymore. The “answers” weren’t seeming to match the questions. Having been diagnosed with clinical depression, I take several prescriptions to keep my brain chemistry closer to what most people would consider “normal.” One of the shortcomings of these prescriptions is that, every so often, they stop being effective at relieving the symptoms. When that happens it leads to what is usually, at least, a multiple month process of trying medications, adjusting dosages, and waiting for results. So, my first thought was to wonder whether it was time for me to undergo this process. So I talked to my psychiatrist. Over the next nine months or so she tried various ways of changing my medications but none of the changes in medication changed the feeling that life had become devoid of meaning.
As I began to realize that these thoughts were not the by-product of medication but were legitimately how I felt, one of the thoughts I had was what this would do to my marriage. My wife and I met 15 years ago on AOL (back when that was a thing). We had grown up in the same denomination and struck up a friendship that grew into love and, eventually, marriage. Where did that leave things with my wife? Our faith brought us together and it was the common ground on which our marriage was built. I knew she harbored none of these new doubts that I now had. I really hoped (and continue to hope) that things between us do not change so much that she decides to call it quits. To be fair, she’s not ever told me there was anything I could do to make her give up on me but, for some reason, I have always had a lingering fear of being abandoned by the people I care about most.
I find that, quite often, my motivations for why I do certain things, believe certain things, or behave in certain ways are a mystery to me as well as to others. I often have to go about collecting clues from myself by reading, writing, and reflecting so I can begin to piece together what’s going on deep in my subconscious. So, to begin that process, I thought it best to start with the books that had helped shape my worldview years earlier. So I purchased copies of The Closing of the American Mind, The Image, and Amusing Ourselves to Death to get started. These books had played a substantial role in convincing me that Western Civilization was on the decline. That the correct ways of learning and understanding were being jettisoned in favor of new and untested approaches. And yet, despite the promise that the new methods were better, they seemed to be making society worse. The twentieth century had seen the rise of tremendous violence, the breakdown of the family unit, the upheaval of the “traditional” male and female division of labor, the rise of youth culture, the sexual revolution, and the increasing use of drugs, to name some of the more often cited problems that had only arisen since these new methods had taken root.
To my dismay, instead of rekindling my faith in the traditional views of things, re-reading these books brought me to the conclusion that the presuppositions that my entire worldview was built on were wrong. I hope to write something specifically on that experience later but, for now, let me just say that I was led to the conclusion that there had been an equal number of positive changes that had happened in the twentieth century that were only possible because we abandoned the old ways of doing things. So, clearly, I needed to rethink everything and find a new philosophy on which to rebuild my shattered worldview and hope it would be sufficient to keep my marriage intact.
By this point I had pieced together the fact that one of the reasons my faith was faltering was realizing how these traditional views I had held were mixing with conservative Christianity and the increasingly unchristian Republican politics and politicians. As Republicans have unleashed wave after wave of radical about faces in public policy in an attempt to undo the best changes to come out of the twentieth century, conservative Christians have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them. They have towed the line with Republican legislatures in taking away workers’ right to collective bargaining, and, in my home state of Michigan, they have sat idly by while the City of Detroit (run by the appointee of the Republican governor) filed for bankruptcy in federal rather than state court for the express intent of skirting provisions in the Michigan state constitution that protect and guarantee the pensions of the city’s workers.
So, I launched a search to find a new philosophical system that would take these issues seriously. Starting where everyone begins their searches for nearly everything these days, I began by doing a Google search on post-modern philosophies. In my search results I came across an article that made the audacious claim that most of the new positive aspects of today’s society were shaped by Progressive Christians. These were the same people that I had been taught were out to destroy the Church and Christianity. That intrigued me. Was it possible that I could remain a Christian and still take on the serious social justice issues of our day? I finally saw a glimmer of hope. Maybe being a Christian was possible without betraying the lives and fate of the less fortunate.
So, now I’m one contemplating being a Progressive Christian. And so I have to pose the question to myself: are progressives Christians even though they don’t follow in the traditions we are historically accustomed to in the West? Do I leave for purely human controlled logic and reason or do I stay in Christianity and fight for what’s right even when it contradicts our historic understanding of the faith? I don’t know that I’ve arrived at my final answer yet but more and more I’m thinking that I don’t want to go.