“The truth resists simplicity.” –John Green
I’ve been reading a book by Timothy Keller entitled, The Reason for God. While I dislike his writing style (I have no academic criticisms, he simply comes across as too certain for my taste, and he writes, quite frankly, like a pastor.), his argumentation, so far, is quite decent. Keller begins his argument for a ‘reasonable faith’ by recalling his youthful struggle to reconcile the ‘hellfire’ orthodoxy he was raised with and the ‘social justice gospel’ he was exposed to as he came of age during the late sixties and early seventies. He summarizes the problems he had with these two camps in his introduction:
“The people most passionate about social justice were moral relativists, while the morally upright didn’t seem to care about the oppression going on all over the world…I kept asking the question[s], “If morality is relative, why isn’t social justice as well? “…How could I turn back to the kind of orthodox Christianity that supported segregation in the South and apartheid in South Africa?”
–Timothy Keller in The Reason for God, xii
It is apparent from the quote that Keller believes moral relativism to be at odds with ‘moral uprightness,’ and while the insinuation makes me aware of his bias, I do not feel it damages his conclusion. There is a contradiction between complete moral relativism and commitment to enforcing a morally palatable social reality. Any caveat about the rights of others or ‘end of my nose’ doctrine supposes at least some limitations on the formation of personal morality. At the very least, my personal morality must have containable results, specifically, results contained to my person. (This supposition has its own problems. In short, I believe complete individualism is impossible.)
There is also a contradiction between the ideals of Christianity—the humble, community oriented Christianity of the synoptic gospels and early church writings; the love-based, inclusive doctrines of Jesus—and the practice of orthodox Christendom in the United States today. It is this very contradiction that has driven me (somewhat) from my pew.
In high school I remember hoping that a ‘happy medium’ could be found in liberal Christianity. I hoped that by leaving behind the baggage of orthodox Christianity and embracing a permissive, socially minded philosophy within the framework of Christendom, I could maintain my religion, and assuage my conscience. The fact that I even had to ‘assuage my conscience’ led to its own set of disturbing questions, which I talk about in ‘Moral.’ But as disturbing as these questions was the slow-dawning realization that simply adopting a form of ‘liberal’ Christianity wouldn’t solve my problems.
It’s not enough to simply dump orthodoxy—the approved ideology or status quo—for ‘like you, except those things I can’t stand’ version of Christian morality. I cannot build a worldview by removing the parts I dislike from an existing worldview, anymore than I can renovate a building by merely smashing out its walls. Instead, I need a new orthodoxy—sound doctrine—in which I can have complete moral, spiritual, and intellectual confidence.
Three or four of my friends (including skeptic-sisters Jodi and Janet) were ‘liberal Christians’ before coming to the same conclusions as I have. But instead of rebuilding their personal doctrine on the foundations of Christians presuppositions they left Christendom altogether. Several of my friends have found Empiricism, Materialism, and Secular Humanism to provide sounder doctrine than any religion. Personally, while I have no inherent loyalty to religion as a concept (religious communities, on the other hand…), I cannot deny that I am a spiritual person, and so I seek an orthodoxy which acknowledges the divine while maintaining intellectual credibility, and demands critical world analysis it of its adherents.