It has taken me awhile to get used to folks discussing religious, as well as social and political, issues in letters to the editor. I have just recently started to bring "religion" and "politics" together in my submissions ("The Religious Left," Sept. 13).

In that forum I stated that conservative theology and conservative social concerns tend to go together, as do progressive theology and progressive social concerns. One's faith motivates social involvement. I listed "progressive social concerns" such as "dreamers," Muslim bans, separation of families, gun control, domestic terrorism, and health care -- social concerns definitely not associated with the "religious right."

But I have yet to write about the other part: elements in a "progressive theology." While a Christian, I aim to write to fit Judaism, Islam, Native American beliefs, Buddhism, and so on. Let's start with what draws folks to faith and faith traditions; and then look at progressive aspects of faith. I laid some of this out in a meditation to the December Harrisonburg-Rockingham Interfaith Association.

In 1890, William James laid out our basic faith choice: "If we find ourselves, in contemplating (the universe), unable to banish the impression that it … exists for the sake of something, we place intelligence at the heart of it and have a religion. If, on the contrary … we can think of the present only as … mechanical sprouting from the past, occurring with no reference to the future, we are atheists and materialists." I believe that each option is a legitimate bet on the unknown. Agnostics hedge this ultimate bet.

Many of us grew up in a church, synagogue, or mosque tradition that permeates our thought patterns and activities -- our very lives. Others come to faith communities to heal broken lives. Some of us have experiences of awe and mystery, of worship, of the holy, of something greater than us working within us -- experiences that give our lives meaning, structure, and direction. Many nurture these faith experiences alone, as solitary seekers. Others have such experiences within a faith community -- or seek out a faith community for support and encouragement; embracing the basics of that faith.

In terms of "conservative" versus "progressive" faith, we have the same choices that Newton or Galileo had in the Enlightenment Period: to a) reject revealed faith and only embrace science (agnosticism or atheism), or b) accept revealed faith and reject any science that conflicts with it (conservative theology), or c) try to balance "revealed" and "discovered" truth (progressive theology). Options b and c are on a long continuum.

The "religious left" in each religious tradition struggles to hold revealed faith and evidence-based science in creative dialog: seeing God revealed to the faithful of pre-scientific scripture periods with views of a flat Earth at the center of a 6,000-year-old universe; and then seeking God's continual revelation to us after centuries of scientific findings; perhaps even seeing science as uncovering God's natural laws and patterns. Peace, Shalom, Salam.

Bill Faw lives in Rockingham County.

(4) comments


It is somewhat difficult to respond to your posting, Mr. Faw, because the terms you are using tend to be somewhat ambiguous – “social concerns”, “social involvement”, “progressive theology” being examples. I guess, to a degree, it would depend on how you interpret “social vs political”.

I would suggest that what you are attributing to “progressive social concerns” are actually political concerns and represent a “progressive” political agenda that requires no theological backing or foundation. Indeed, I would suggest that “progressivism” is its own secular religion populated as all religions are by its own set of zealots.

A quick correction to your list, Mr. Faw: there is no “Muslim ban”. That aside, the list you presented indicates that “progressive social concerns” include mass amnesty for all illegal aliens with no restrictions on who can come into America (and thus the elimination of America as a nation), and other boiler plate items constituting a secular “progressive” wish list.

Perhaps you may want to consider where your faith-based theology ends and your secular based ideology begins?


Excellent post Donald.


To even associate Mr. Faw with your description of immigration policy, your insistence that there is no Muslim ban, and that the “boilerplate” progressive theology can’t be separated from progressive secular ideology is cynical and false. Mr. Faw is a follower of the gospels of the New Testament and spent his working life feeding the poor, welcoming the immigrant, healing the sick, preaching his faith, and spreading the love of Christ in the communities most in need.

I assume that you have already examined where your “faith-based theology ends and your secular based ideology begins?” I truly hope that the cesspool of white nationalism you describe is not your true religion.


I see you have run out of argument, Mr. Holl. We are discussing politics here, not Mr. Faw’s good works, though I am sure there have been many. Mr. Faw chose to list a string of political issues referring to them as “progressive social concerns”. His letter is thus subject to critical response and request for clarification.

In reading my response to Mr. Faw’s letter, I realized that I had forgotten to ask clarification on one other thing. I will do so now in this response to you, Mr. Holl.

Mr. Faw, You attribute to “conservative theology” the choice of accepting revealed faith, and you attribute to “progressive theology” the choice of trying to balance "revealed" and "discovered" truth. Why do you use “faith” for the one and “truth” for the other?

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