I took that SelectSmart Belief System Selector survey this afternoon, and received some interesting results:
Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants. Also sometimes referred to as secular, modern, or humanistic. This is an umbrella term for Protestant denominations, or churches within denominations, that view the Bible as the witness of God rather than the word of God, to be interpreted in its historical context through critical analysis. Examples include some churches within Anglican/Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Unitarian, United Church of Christ. There are more than 2,000 Protestant denominations offering a wide range of beliefs from extremely liberal to mainline to ultra conservative and those that include characteristics on both ends.
- Belief in Deity: Trinity of the Father (God), the Son (Christ), and the Holy Spirit that comprises one God Almighty. Many believe God is incorporeal.
- Incarnations: Beliefs vary from the literal to the symbolic belief in Jesus Christ as God's incarnation. Some believe we are all sons and daughters of God and that Christ was exemplary, but not God.
- Origin of universe and life: The Bible's account is symbolic. God created and controls the processes that account for the universe and life (e.g. evolution), as continually revealed by modern science.
- After death: Goodness will somehow be rewarded and evil punished after death, but what is most important is how you show your faith and conduct your life on earth.
- Why evil? Most do not believe that humanity inherited original sin from Adam and Eve or that Satan actually exists. Most believe that God is good and made people inherently good, but also with free will and imperfect nature which leads some to immoral behavior.
- Salvation: Various beliefs: Some believe all will go to heaven as God is loving and forgiving. Others believe salvation lies in doing good works and no harm to others, regardless of faith. Some believe baptism is important. Some believe the concept of salvation after death is symbolic, or nonexistent.
- Undeserving Suffering: Most Liberal Christians do not believe that Satan causes suffering. Some believe suffering is part of God's plan, will, or design even if we don't immediately understand it. Some don't believe in any spiritual reasons for suffering, and most take a humanistic approach to helping those in need.
- Contemporary Issues: Most churches teach that abortion is morally wrong, but many ultimately support a woman's right to choose, usually accompanied by policies to provide counseling on alternatives. Many are accepting of homosexuality and gay rights.
Yeah, that's pretty much right on the money. I've described myself in the past as a religious liberal, by which I mean two things. First, my views on religion are liberal. I believe in what I believe in, but if you don't, I try not to let it bother me. Ultimately, it makes no difference to me whether you believe in God or go to church or anything like that. It's all secondary to who you are as a person, and if my perception is that you're a good person, that perception is unlikely to change if I find out you're an atheist. And if I think you're a jerk, finding out you're a Christian would only make me think you're a Christian jerk.
The other reason I call myself a religious liberal is that to the extent that my faith informs my politics, it does so in a liberal direction. My opposition to capital punishment, for example, stems directly from my religious faith. I used to be pro-death penalty, but when I started going to church again and started thinking more about the implications of a system whereby people are allowed to judge whether other people deserve to live, I switched positions.
To the extent that my views on religion are conservative, it's in my distaste for wearing one's religion on one's sleeve. My faith informs my life in many ways, and I'm not shy about saying so. But there are other parts of my life which are pretty much unaffected by my faith, and it kind of bugs me when I see people bringing their faith into one of those places. Case in point: every so often I'll see a tour buses driving through DC that say "Christian tours." I'll concede that there's a place for Christian tours; if I ever visit Jerusalem, I'd like to see the sites that are particularly significant to Christianity. And I read about a company once that offers "reformed tours" of Wittenburg, Geneva, and other places closely associated with the reformed faith. But what's the point of a Christian tour of Washington DC? Once you get past the National Cathedral and the Shrine of Immaculate Conception, what else is there? Georgetown University? The statues of Junípero Serra and Father Damien de Veuster in the Captiol? Honestly, Washington DC is not a city with a lot of religiously-significant attractions. So my assumption is that these are not Christian tours per se, but rather tours that are led by Christians. And who cares about that?
The same is true of the guy who advertises in my local paper, a plumber I think, who decorates his ad with a fish much like those you see on the back of cars, which I guess is meant to tell me that he's not just a plumber, he's a Christian plumber. Well, guess what, Mr. Christian Plumber, I could no possibly care less. When I look for a plumber, I want to know whether he's licensed and bonded, and if he can fix my toilet. If not, he's worthless to me, even if he's a Christian.
What's troubling about that tour operator and that plumber is the implication that they're uninterested in serving that part of the population that is not Christian. And of course it's their right to do so, but it's hard to think of any attitude that is more thoroughly unChristian. The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches that people who believe in God are obligated to offer assistance to everyone. By implying they're interested only in Christian clients, they're ignoring the single most fundamental tenet of Christianity: love thy neighbor as thyself. Christians like that give Christians like me a bad image. It hurts me when I hear about people who have had bad experiences with other Christians. It makes me want to apologize on behalf of my religion.