Sunday, 6 September 2009

Religious liberals and conervatives: dialogue of the deaf

[The labels "liberal" and "conservative" ("traditional(-ist)" likewise) are of course inadequate, if not pernicious, but labels have their uses and we all know what these ones mean (more or less). It is with this caveat that they are used here.]

It's not exactly an amazing insight to say that in their disagreements (and even in sincere attempts at dialogue) liberal and conservative Christians are usually taking past each other.

It is not, however, so often noted that the problem is exacerbated, if not actually caused, by agreement about first principles, not disagreement.

Almost everyone (liberal or conservative)* would assent to the propositions that Christians should both be faithful to the Gospel and preach that Gospel anew in every age.

But the key question is: What does this mean in practice?

To the conservative, the liberal's concern for preaching the Gospel anew tips over into unfaithfulness.

To the liberal, the conservative's concern for faithfulness ends up killing the Gospel.

The conservative finds it hard to believe that her liberal brother really cares about faithfulness, but it's precisely because he does that the liberal gets mightily offended at the implication that he doesn't.

The liberal finds it hard to believe that his conservative sister really cares about bringing the Gospel to the present age in any useful way, but it's precisely because she does that the conservative gets mightily offended at the implication that she doesn't.

How far is too far? How far is not far enough?

* Naturally there are exceptions at the extremities, and there are, too, some people who for pragmatic reasons are suspicious of perfectly reasonable formulations like these.


  1. The real reason the two sides are talking past each other is that each is convinced they know exactly what the others are saying and neither actually listens.
    If I have to read one more time that all conservatives are sexist and that the Pope compares women priests to paedophilia I shall scream.
    Equally, I shall scream if I have to read one more time that liberals have deliberately lied to conservatives and would like them out of the church, that certain bishops don't believe in the basics of Christianity and that liberals only want an anything-goes society.

    I shall scream whenever either side mentions that they're being the real victims.

    I expect I shall be screaming for a fair while.

  2. That's certainly part of it, and (I think) implicit in my analysis.

  3. It's partly implicit in your analysis. But I am still always astonished at how happy people are to believe the worst and how no explanation of the truth will get in the way of a nice falsehood.
    Even pro-Catholic people without an axe to grind and who don't believe that Catholics are not taking the Gospel seriously, seem congenitally unable to understand that the Pope did not compare women's ordination with child abuse.

    It's one thing to say that you don't believe the others have faith right, and insecure people will feel very threatened and react precisely in the way you suggest.

    It's a further step to support your views by lying about them.

    As a same sex partnered woman I am very much aware of the lies people spread about me. You can be against my life without having to lie about it.
    You can be against what the Pope stands for without lying about him, and you can be against people who don't like women priests without lying about them.