Liberal Protestantism and science
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Mainline Protestant churches, including those in Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Methodist denominations, have lost roughly 5 million adult members since , and now comprise about 15 percent of the US population, according to Pew Research. Up to then, the church had plateaued with about 35 adult members. On Sunday, there were more than 60, including children. Kansfield has been making contacts with consortiums of faith groups mobilizing for progressive causes.
A religious quiz Cover Story America's new ministers Amid heightened threats, US Muslims get help from their neighbors Why Trump's refugee policy divides religious leaders. Share this article Copy link Link copied. Next Up. Everyone who is not a German lives and dies for the benefit of Germans.
And every German citizen is nothing but cannon fodder and a reproductive machine for the Fatherland. Even Nazi racist exterminationism can be understood as an aspect of that nationalism. The world wars discredited any impetus there was to restore civil religion in Europe.
The very idea of the nation was in some ways abandoned, as were even the remnants of Christian personal theology. Theologies that treat people as either citizens or persons, the thought is, inevitably lead to murder. P robably the most fanatical attempt to resolve the contradiction between the liberal devotion to the person and impersonal science and theology was History — History with a capital H. History is the name for what free persons have created in opposition to nature, evidence of the real existence of human freedom.
One modern goal — perhaps the most deeply modern goal — was for History to reconstruct all of natural reality. Nature would be fully brought under human control.
Our personal existences would become completely unalienated and secure. With the complete triumph of History, as glimpsed by Hegel and fully described by Marx, free persons would no longer be reduced to parts of some larger alien whole. They would be free to form themselves into whatever kind of personal reality they pleased.
Marx called this perfect personal liberation communism. Human persons would be free from all communal determination for self-determination. This vision of perfect personal liberation through historical transformation manifested itself in the horribly cruel and murderous Communist totalitarianism of the twentieth century. In their aim to strip persons of any real individuality, and their ruthless sacrifice of the imperfect persons of today for the liberated persons of tomorrow, these historical efforts were radically depersonalizing.
The twentieth century saw hundreds of millions of expendable persons march to their deaths — beings who were regarded as no more than parts of History. L eading European thinkers now believe they have learned the lesson of the world wars and the Cold War: The nation should have no future.
Human rights and the dignity of the person both require our gradual surrender of territorial democracy and political loyalty. There should no longer be any attachment to a particular people in a particular place.
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Nobody should understand himself as a dutiful citizen of a specific political entity, but we should all be cosmopolita n — that is, citizens of the world. Power should devolve from the state in the direction of larger unions — toward an amorphous and rather apolitical European Union which, having no clear territorial identity, is potentially a global union or to the United Nations.
These larger unions might be criticized as diminishing personal significance in the direction of impersonal, meddlesome, bureaucratic despotism. The most urgent thing, however, is not to empower people to act as citizens but to save them from the destructive consequences of doing so. Every human being, we still say, is unique and irreplaceable. Nobody may be sacrificed for another, or to some cause or ideal, but only because we know of nothing higher than each of our bare existences. We do what we can to protect each person from not being and nothing more, because each person is nothing more than the opposite of not being.
We must stop sacrificing present persons to some imaginary future — as the Christians did with their vision of personal immortality or the Marxists did with their vision of perfect historical liberation. It would seem that the contemporary enlightened European has reconciled us to the truth that our bodily existence is all there is.
But this enlightened view is full of contradictions and paradoxes. If bodily existence is all there is, why do we privilege human beings over other sorts of bodies? Why is it that we alone among the animals have rights? Perhaps it is because we alone among the animals are aware of the limits of our natural existence, are disgusted by them, and strive to overcome them. Each human person does not really think of himself as just a part of nature, and even today he cannot help but hate the nature bound to ultimately kill him. He cannot lose himself in some vision of an impersonal natural process.
Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History
There is little reason to devote himself to human rights if he is just one part of nature among infinitely many. Contemporary Europeans seem to recognize that they are more than their mere bodies, although they do not seem to know who or what. The attempt — in the service of personal wholeness or self-sufficiency — not to be a part of anything at all leads to emptiness and solitary fantasies. The contemporary European cannot be a pantheist or even a consistent naturalist; he does not really find himself at home in nature, nor can he find himself at home in his country, his church, or his family.
He tends to live, instead, in a sort of postpolitical, postreligious, postfamilial fantasy. He thinks that, and acts like, he can live without the institutions that are reflections of his embodiment — institutions that human beings form as a result of having and coming to terms with their bodies. The postpolitical fantasy is that the nation can wither away. The truth, of course, is that liberalism cannot altogether free human beings from their political needs. New national, despotic, and imperial challenges will inevitably arise; the world will remain dangerous; war will always be a possibility.
The protection of human rights may once have seemed to require the enlightened dismissal of the nation. But the Russians, Chinese, and Iranians are serving up a reminder that the nation or some polis is a necessary defense against despotism and empire.
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Being part of a nation or polis has to be a part — but not the whole — of any free person with a future; rights are effectively exercised only within a political context. Even if the perfected liberation of the cosmopolitan, humanitarian world dreamed up by Marx and many theorists today were a possibility, the price for the absence of alienation would be a chilling human emptiness.
The postfamilial fantasy is reflected most strikingly in birth rates below the rate of replacement, but also in low rates of marriage and the detachment of parenthood from marriage. A free person, conscious that his death ends all, does not think beyond his personal existence; he refuses to subordinate himself to a community of family members who came before or after him, rejecting the illusion that he can live on through his children. But of course, the natural future of our species and the political future of a people depends upon replacements being born and raised.
It is a perverse mark of our freedom that we are able to suppress the natural instinct meant to keep life going. People are refusing, more than ever, to be the social, species-serving animals of the evolutionary account, to take their place as part of nature. The demographic crisis caused by so many failing to think of themselves as belonging to a family may be the main reason to wonder whether Europe — or excessively consistent, lonely liberalism — could possibly have a future. For related reasons, Europeans seem also to be living in a postreligious fantasy.
Very few go to church or think of themselves as members of a church. Just a few decades ago, European intellectuals prided themselves on being full of existentialist anxiety in the absence of God — but the contemporary European claims to be too enlightened to be moved, as a person, toward any kind of illusory transcendence. He refuses either to believe in God or to be haunted by His absence.
"The Sources of Fundamentalism and Liberalism Considered Historically and Psychologically"
But the longings that make a person more than a merely biological being remain just beneath the surface. The person remains miserably disoriented in the perceived absence of the personal God. The preponderance of evidence we have from Europe is that the liberalism of personal liberation has become toxic — if not yet decisively fatal — for human imaginations that have room for nations or political life.
The modern oscillation between expecting too much and too little of citizenship can only be brought to an end, it is now thought, by bringing citizenship to an end. T he American nation, we can also see, has a more promising future. There are many reasons for the American difference. The two world wars and the Cold War were not as traumatic for us; in fact, they reinforced our national self-confidence.
The human cost of the monstrous twentieth century was not exacted on our continent. In each of these wars we also rightly think of ourselves as having been a force for good, defending personal freedom and human rights against terrible evildoers. We can also see that America has not really engaged in the effort to stabilize free, personal life in the absence of a personal God.
The American view has tended neither toward the death of God nor His reconfiguration as the foundation of some American civil religion. Writers often discuss the American civil religion, but generally describe it as some variant of Biblical religion with an active God.
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From the beginning, Americans have not grappled in the same way with the contradiction between intense personal longings and impersonal science or theology. Consider our Declaration of Independence. So Americans view political life, in part, as the free construction of self-interested individuals securing their material being in a hostile natural world.
But they also, in part, regard it as limited by the conscientious duties persons have to their personal Creator. Political life is both dignified and limited by the real existence of dignified creatures. The most admirable and powerful American efforts at egalitarian reform have had religious origins, but religion has also acted as Tocqueville explained as a limit on the American spirit of social and political reform. Americans have plenty of confidence in progress, but present persons are not to be sacrificed to some vague historical future.
Consider today how Americans are divided over the truth of modern, impersonal natural theology or science. Some Americans believe that we should take our social and moral cues from the evolutionary science of Darwin. In their eyes, we are not qualitatively different from the other animals; basically, they assert with pride in their sophistication, we are chimps with really big brains. This variety of American is also usually quite proud of his autonomy — his freedom from nature for self-determination. If men really are the same as chimps, however, then human autonomy is nothing but an illusion.
Strict materialism and evolution cannot really account for free, personal existence.
They are well on their way to reducing all morality to fanaticism about personal health and safety. In their social behavior, they increasingly resemble the Europeans — and like the Europeans, they are not having enough children to replace themselves. Meanwhile, other Americans still believe that their personal existence is supported by a personal God, often a God Whose intelligence exhibits itself in the design of nature. Although they typically believe their true home is somewhere else, these are clearly the Americans most at home as members of families, churches, and their country.
Generally speaking, they have more than enough babies to replace themselves, raise them comparatively well, and do not seek as urgently to fend off their inevitable biological demise. Most at home with the irreducible alienation that comes with being a person, they seem best able to see the good about their familial and political existence for what it is.
In our country, personal theology seems an indispensable support for the future of the nation.
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The scientific truth of evolution does not explain who we are as personal beings.