Friday, July 6, 2012

Does "Progressive" mean "Not Really"?

"'Listen!' said the White Spirit. 'Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them. Become that child again: even now... You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth."
C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

The other day I saw the name "" pop up on facebook. I was intrigued, so I checked it out. Unfortunately, I was only able to make it through about half of the "About" section before I was forced to close the window by a growing sense of the poetic "conscious impotence of rage at human folly." (T.S. Eliot ftw! He must have had a vision of the internet.) Among the more rage-inducing elements was its status as a haven for those who "find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty, in the questions rather than in the answers," as well as those who are "repelled by claims that Christianity is the 'only way.'" They also "affirm the variety and depth of human experience and the richness of each person's search for meaning," as well as a "respect for all religious traditions."

Yesterday, this made me a little angry (Had I stayed on the site, I imagine my anger would have increased exponentially for each subsequent minute). But now, looking at it today, I just have to laugh. There's just sooo much wrong with this, starting with the fact that they claim the title of "Christianity," despite the fact that they reject "the beliefs and dogmas [associated with] Christianity." One has to ask: Can you, in good conscience, really call it "Christianity" when it's stripped of its specifically Christian doctrines? And much of it really is laughable: For instance, the site assumes the existence of God (so that's one point in their favor, I guess). If God exists, that means he is solid. Real. And if He is solid and real, than that means that certain ideas can accurately be applied to Him (and if you correct me and say "She" or "it" or "He-She", then you are only playing right into my hand). If certain ideas can be applied accurately to God, then other ideas can be applied inaccurately to God. If God is Real, in any sense commonly understood by "Real," then not all ideas about God can be equally valid, because many ideas about God are contradictory.

The absolutely hilarious thing is that "progressive Christianity" explicitly condemns the "rigid, 'explain-all' dogma that overliteralizes and distorts the grand mysteries it seeks to illuminate" that is found in traditional Christianity. So they advocate respect for all religious traditions... except traditional Christianity? Because that doesn't sound very respectful: It sounds downright disrespectful, to me. It seems as though they're saying that traditional Christianity is in some way worse than progressive Christianity... but that can't be right, because they say right there that they're "opposed to any exclusive dogma." But everything on the page seems to say that their own dogma excludes traditional Christianity. Even if I worked at it all day, I couldn't make this any more ridiculous than they make themselves.

But that's really simple stuff. Today, I want to focus on something a bit trickier to look at: The elevation of "searching" above "finding."

I really need to talk some more about this, because this talk of "searching" being more important than "finding" is one of those truly ridiculous claims that can sound really nice when it's said in the correct tone... but if it's ever really thought about, it's revealed to be absolutely indefensible. Let's take this from the top.

There either is meaning to be found, or there is not. Those are the only two choices. There is no middle ground.  

If there is meaning to be found, then that means meaning is a solid thing. That means meaning, presumably, can be found. But it also means that meaning can be missed, can be left undiscovered, can be sailed right past in the dim light of human experience and reason.

So I have a question: Is there any other solid, real thing where searching for it can be said to be more important than finding it?

Let's take the fountain of youth. A lot of explorers looked for it: A few spent their whole lives looking for it. And I'm sure you could craft a cool story out of the search. I'll bet they had a lot of adventures looking for it. But you know how that story ended? They all died because they never found the fountain of youth. The search, ultimately, was worthless, meaningless, because they failed to find what they were looking for.

Or let's take diamonds, or coal, or friendship, or a spouse, or literally anything else that you have to look for. Is the search itself ever more meaningful than finding it? The very suggestion is ridiculous. Searching for something important (and in this case, meaning assumes ultimate importance) and not finding it is not fulfilling: It is hopeless. It is failure. It is meaningless.

But aren't there several instances of people searching for one thing and never finding it, but being fulfilled anyway because they found something else? Yes indeed... but that simply means that they were searching for the wrong thing to begin with. They found what was meaningful, and (and this is the important bit) had they not found it, they would have remained unfulfilled.

There is yet one more refuge for the professional seeker: That seeking, itself, is meaningful. But guess what? If you come to the conclusion that "seeking meaning" is exactly what is meaningful in life, then the search for meaning is over. You have found the answer: You have discovered that meaning is found in looking for it. Congratulations! Or... not, because you've only replaced one fixed meaning (which you claim to hate) with another, equally fixed meaning. If meaning is found in seeking, then once you begin seeking, you have found it. This is just as fixed, just as dogmatic, as anything about Christianity that you claim to be repelled by.

And you cannot escape from this sense of fixity, because if meaning is--if there is such a thing as ultimate meaning (which, in this case, is God and how he interacts with us)--then meaning must be a fixed thing. The Progressive Christian looks down on those who (he thinks) try to find this meaning in "fixed, over-literal dogma": The Progressive Christian tries to find meaning in the ongoing action of searching, and in doing so, he thinks he has escaped fixity. He is wrong. His meaning is just as fixed as anyone else's: Just as gold is always gold, whether it is found panning in a river or digging in a mine.

Now: If there is NOT meaning to be found, then nothing is meaningful: This includes the search. If there is no meaning, then the search for meaning is meaningless. If there is no meaning to be found, then the search for meaning is a horrible, futile, never-ending, hope-destroying thing, like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up the hill forever.

So what are you, Progressive Christianity? Are you a wildly inconsistent, all-inclusive-except-for-stuff-we-disagree-with feel-good pseudo religion ... or merely the starting point of an inherently hopeless search for something which doesn't exist? You seem utterly intent on being both at once.

I don't want to be unfair, I don't want to misrepresent anything, and I don't want to replace debate with pointless mocking. I don't feel as though I have done anything of the sort here: But if you do, then please, feel free to comment.

1 comment:

  1. I just see Mackenzie rage-quitting the website. Hahaha.