Why liberal theology isn’t the answer

If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that I don’t like conservative theology. If there is a God, I’d much rather believe in the cuddly, liberal type who opens heaven up to anyone who tried to be nice, rather than the angry, vengeful one who condemns people to eternal torment because they were brought up as Hindus, or fell in love with someone of the same sex, or liked to eat black pudding.

Reading through the Bible, it’s easy enough to interpret stories to fit in with your chosen viewpoint, in much the same way as we process facts according to our existing beliefs. But my liberal drift was significantly accelerated by some of the events in the Old Testament in particular. If God is like that, He’s a monster. If He isn’t, these accounts are the work of flawed humans, not divinely and perfectly dictated.

I don’t believe that a God who wipes out the entire population of the world, orders genocide, approves filicide and even slaughters young boys for being cheeky is consistent with the message of Jesus. There are plenty of passages which show God in a rather more favourable light, but conservative theology relies on the Bible being a true and divinely inspired account, which would make God both nasty and inconsistent.

Noah’s Ark: Not quite as cuddly and friendly as this suggests

It’s hard to see how anyone can hold a conservative theology when you consider what a vicious, hateful God is portrayed when you take the Bible literally. Or is it?

I can hardly believe I’m saying this, but I think that conservative position makes as much sense as the liberal alternative. Here’s why.

The big challenge faced by those who uphold the view that genocide is commanded by a just God, as William Lane Craig does, is that this means that God’s behind an act which at the very least offends our sensibilities, and at worst is grossly immoral. Typically, they find ways to suggest that there’s a bigger picture, that it’s arrogant to dismiss it from a comfortable modern position without God’s omniscience, and invariably that if there isn’t a God, there’s no objective moral standard to judge Him against anyway.

I find those arguments incredibly weak (especially the laughable apologetic that starts by assuming that God doesn’t exist, in an attempt to prove that He was right to do certain things), but that isn’t just a problem for conservatives – liberals have the same problem.

If you believe in God, you need an answer to the Problem of Evil. It’s the big one that won’t go away. There’s only one problem – no one has ever managed a truly convincing answer. The best on offer, one which pops up all the time in slightly different guises, is that we don’t fully understand, but it all makes sense from a divine perspective.

That’s the very same argument as is used to justify Biblical genocide.

To be a liberal Christian, you have to believe that a loving, gentle God stands by and allows the most unimaginable horrors. Earthquakes, floods, murder, rape – the loving, caring God watches on, sitting on his hands. But He must have a reason, right? He must know what he’s doing.

Exactly. He must. If He exists.

So once you’ve swallowed the camel of a nice, friendly, inclusive God who does nothing while innocent people suffer, what’s the problem with the gnat of a few slaughtered tribes who stood in the way of His chosen people? At least there’s an obvious reason for their suffering, even if it’s the fact that they were in the way, or worshipped the wrong God.

Until anyone can come up with a good answer to the Problem of Evil, liberal theology looks like little more than window dressing.

Photos by Beverly & Pack, used under Attribution License

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

6 responses to “Why liberal theology isn’t the answer”

  1. theaspirationalagnostic says :

    Yep- whenever I get close to ‘believing’, my mind automatically goes ‘hello? Holocaust??’ and I think ‘Bugger’.

  2. M. Rodriguez says :

    I went from fundamentalism to straight agnosticism atheism. No middle ground.

    For me liberal theology lacked two things …substance and truth.
    Substance , because their is no core our grounding to liberal theology. Their are no real ingredients to a fundamental principle.

    truth, because it is great to believe in something, and if you ask the liberal theist what is core to their belief 9 out of 10 you get LOVE. But is that true, of is that what we want to believe.

    The great thing about believing is that we can believe whatever we want to believe. But that does not mean whatever we want to believe is true.

  3. M. Rodriguez says :

    If some of the early christians would of have their way, they would have dropped the OT. But those Mircoian sect of Christians were considered heretics.

    http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/guns-dont-kill-people-gods-do/

  4. Joe says :

    I think a more fundamental issue is that if Jesus is God (or at least in the way most seem to assert it) and if the New Testament is an inspired record (or at least in the sense that a large number of Christians assert), why did he not at some point look down on his disciples and say

    “Look fellas, in centuries to come people will use some of the things I’ve said to you to justify burning each other at the stake, torture, massacres and so on. I want there to be absolutely no misunderstanding, so write this down and make sure nobody forgets it…”

    Why would a God of love be so opaque as to allow people to interpret verses in such equal-and-opposite (and violent) ways?

    I have also been thinking about whether we can choose what to believe and whether it really makes any difference if it is true. Maybe there are false things which are worth believing. Maybe having a set of beliefs which elevates the human condition, looks for the good, inspires self-sacrificial actions and seeks to reach out to those in need is not a bad thing, even if the basis is not true.

  5. Bruce Patterson says :

    The primary answer to the question ‘Why me?’ from a Christian perspective is: ‘Why not you?’ What we deserve from God is our destruction. Now. Jesus puts it like this:

    1-5 About that time some people came up and told him about the Galileans Pilate had killed while they were at worship, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar. Jesus responded, “Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die. And those eighteen in Jerusalem the other day, the ones crushed and killed when the Tower of Siloam collapsed and fell on them, do you think they were worse citizens than all other Jerusalemites? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die.”

    6-7 Then he told them a story: “A man had an apple tree planted in his front yard. He came to it expecting to find apples, but there weren’t any. He said to his gardener, ‘What’s going on here? For three years now I’ve come to this tree expecting apples and not one apple have I found. Chop it down! Why waste good ground with it any longer?’

    8-9 “The gardener said, ‘Let’s give it another year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize, and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn’t, then chop it down.’”

    We’ve screwed up and God really doesn’t want us around to mess up ‘heaven’, given the mess we are making of our lives on earth. But He’s kind enough to give us a solution to this problem – which cost him the death of His son on the cross.

    What about ‘innocent’ suffering? The main answer is that even the most innocent is actually still choosing the selfish route at some point. But also it seems that God treats children as He does their parents: they benefit from the parents right relationship with God, and suffer when they are wrong.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      Aaaaand we’re back to the Problem of Evil, with a nice heretical twist at that.

      I don’t doubt that we’re all fundamentally selfish (even sinful, if you prefer), but Jesus explicitly rejected that line of thought as an explanation for suffering in John 9:

      As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
      “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

      Not that it would solve much if you could blame suffering on sin – God created us, knew what we’d do, that we’d screw up, and so on. It just displaces the problem.

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