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.