According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Richard Beck - The Purity Culture of Progressive Christianity, Parts 1 & 2




The Purity Culture of Progressive Christianity, Part 1 of 2
http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-purity-culture-of-progressive.html?m=1

by Richard Beck
March 9, 2015

You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent.
You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be
the substance of your message? Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of
man for it is the image of God. --Thomas Merton

We've all read about the problems related to the purity culture associated with evangelicalism. But recently I've been thinking about the purity culture that is found in liberal, progressive and/or radical Christian circles.

My thoughts here were spurred by the essay written by Aurora Dagny entitled "Everything is Problematic."

As someone who identifies as a progressive Christian I found Aurora's essay to be very thought-provoking. The essay describes Aurora's journey into radical, leftist activism and the reasons she eventually stepped away. If you're a progressive Christian like me I encourage you to read the whole thing.

The one thing I want to draw attention to his how a purity mentality ran through the leftist and radical groups Aurora worked with. Interestingly, this purity mentality was oriented around a set of "sacred beliefs"--an "orthodoxy." This is exactly what you see among evangelical Christians. More, this orthodoxy is used to separate "the good guys" from "the bad guys." Beliefs create warrants for social exclusion, expulsion and scapegoating.

Aurora describing this:

One way to define the difference between a regular belief and a sacred belief is that people who hold sacred beliefs think it is morally wrong for anyone to question those beliefs. If someone does question those beliefs, they’re not just being stupid or even depraved, they’re actively doing violence. They might as well be kicking a puppy. When people hold sacred beliefs, there is no disagreement without animosity. In this mindset, people who disagreed with my views weren’t just wrong, they were awful people. I watched what people said closely, scanning for objectionable content. Any infraction reflected badly on your character, and too many might put you on my blacklist. Calling them ‘sacred beliefs’ is a nice way to put it. What I mean to say is that they are dogmas.

Thinking this way quickly divides the world into an ingroup and an outgroup — believers and heathens, the righteous and the wrong-teous. “I hate being around un-rad people,” a friend once texted me, infuriated with their liberal roommates. Members of the ingroup are held to the same stringent standards. Every minor heresy inches you further away from the group. People are reluctant to say that anything is too radical for fear of being been seen as too un-radical. Conversely, showing your devotion to the cause earns you respect. Groupthink becomes the modus operandi. When I was part of groups like this, everyone was on exactly the same page about a suspiciously large range of issues. Internal disagreement was rare. The insular community served as an incubator of extreme, irrational views.

High on their own supply, activists in these organizing circles end up developing a crusader mentality: an extreme self-righteousness based on the conviction that they are doing the secular equivalent of God’s work. It isn’t about ego or elevating oneself. In fact, the activists I knew and I , [myself], tended to denigrate ourselves more than anything. It wasn’t about us, it was about the desperately needed work we were doing, it was about the people we were trying to help. The danger of the crusader mentality is that it turns the world in a battle between good and evil.

---

What is fascinating to me is how this is the exact same psychological dynamic at work among conservative, evangelical Christians. It's just the progressive version of it.

And this "will to purity" doesn't just manifest in protecting sacred beliefs, it manifests in behavior as well. Both evangelical and progressive Christians doggedly pursue a vision of moral purity.

For evangelical Christians moral purity will fixate on hedonism (e.g., sex, drug use, etc.).

For progressive Christians moral purity will fixate on complicity in injustice. To be increasingly "pure" in progressive Christian circles is to become less and less complicit in injustice. Thus there is an impulse toward a more and more radical lifestyle where, eventually, you find yourself feeling that "everything is problematic." You can't do anything without contaminating yourself.

To be clear, I'm not judging any of this. I'm simply trying to trace out the contours of the purity culture at work among progressive Christians. Mainly because I think many progressive Christians have become burnt out by this psychology. Progressive Christians have become burnt out by the chronic anger produced by the "good vs. evil" Crusader mentality and burnt out by the chronic exhaustion of living in a world where "everything is problematic."

For most of us, the vision of progressive Christianity--as we took up the banner of social justice--started out so hopeful and joyous.

But for far too many, in the words of Aurora, the purity culture of progressive Christianity caused it all to "metastasize into a nightmare."

---

Richard Beck is Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. He is the author of several books including Unclean, The Authenticity of Faith, and The Slavery of Death. Richard's published research also covers topics as diverse as the psychology of profanity to why Christian bookstore art is so bad. Richard also leads a bible study each week for fifty inmates at the maximum security French-Robertson unit. And any given week Richard drives the van, preaches or washes dishes at Freedom Fellowship, a church plant feeding and reaching out to those on the margins. Finally, on his popular blog Experimental Theology Richard will spend enormous amounts of time writing about the theology of Johnny Cash, the demonology of Scooby-Doo or his latest bible class on monsters.




* * * * * * * * * *




The Purity Psychology of Progressive Christianity: Scrupulosity, Part 2 of 2
http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-purity-psychology-of-progressive.html

by Richard Beck
March 17, 2015

After my posts from last week I continue to have a lot of conversations about how purity psychology affects various impulses within progressive Christianity. My original post is here which has a link at the bottom to some follow-up reflections.

In light of the analyses I shared in those posts, a very interesting connection with Catholic moral theology was pointed out to me yesterday by Leah Libresco who blogs at"Unequally Yoked" for the Patheos Catholic channel.

Specifically, Leah pointed out some similarities between my descriptions of the purity psychology at work among progressive Christians and the Catholic notion of scrupulosity. According to Catholic moral teaching scrupulosity involves persistent worries about being in a state of sin.

These worries can be due to a lot of things, from being extraordinarily conscientious to having a very sensitive or tender conscience to something that is more pathological (like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder).

Psychologically speaking, I think Leah is right in connecting scrupulosity to intrusive thoughts and even to what the Eastern Orthodox call logismoi, evil, or tempting thoughts. For the Orthodox logismoi are intrusive mental temptations such as lust and greed and pride. In scrupulosity the intrusive thoughts are persistent and nagging worries that we've done something wrong.

In Catholic moral teaching scrupulosity has generally been connected to worries about committing a mortal sin and falling out of a state of grace. Mortal sins are, generally speaking, severe or chronic failures of piety.

But what is interesting for our purposes is how Leah has observed scrupulosity at work in issues related to altruism. That is to say, among compassionate Catholics scrupulosity can manifest in worries about how to do the right or best things for others. Paralleling my analysis, Leah traces this wanting-to-do-good scrupulosity to a purity psychology.

In her post "Purity, Anxiety and Effective Altruism" Leah focuses on the worries many of us feel about making sure the monies we send to charities are being used effectively and with minimal waste. We want our money, most if not all of our money, to get into the hands of those who need it. But when we start evaluating the effectiveness of charities and how best to use our money in alleviating suffering worldwide we can fall down a rabbit-hole. In wanting to do the right thing and the best thing we can encounter, to use Leah's words, "analysis paralysis." Regarding all these worries about trying to do the right thing Leah writes:

...I came up with a speculative hypothesis about what might drive this kind of reaction to Effective Altruism. While people were sharing stories about their friends, some of their anxious behaviors and thoughts sounded akin to Catholic scrupulosity. One of the more exaggerated examples of scrupulosity is a Catholic who gets into the confessional, lists his/her sins, receives absolution, and then immediately gets back into line, worried that she did something wrong in her confession, and should now confess that error.

Both of these obviously bear some resemblance to anxiety/OCD, period, but I was interested in speculating a little about why...Taking a cue from the psychologist Jonathan Haidt, Leah traces this altruism-related scrupulosity to purity psychology: "My weak hypothesis is that effective altruism can feel more like a 'purity' decision...". Wanting to optimize our altruism, to make it more effective, can, in Leah's words, "trigger scrupulosity."

What is interesting here is how Leah is connecting scrupulosity less with a fear of doing a bad thing (committing a mortal sin) than with the keen desire to do a good thing, the desire to reduce suffering in the world. And as the scope of this scrupulosity expands from domain to domain, to eventually inhabit every facet of existence, we begin converging upon the "everything is problematic" mindset and a sort of moral paralysis sets in.

Of course, the objections here are now familiar. While scrupulosity is definitely an unpleasant neurotic experience, scrupulosity is still focusing upon the actions of individuals and is still centering feelings, generally the feelings of privileged people.

But the answer here wouldn't be for those privileged people to have less scruples or to check their scruples or de-center their scruples. Without scruples the privileged people wouldn't really care or worry about being privileged. Without scruples you'd never check your privilege.

So the scruples are necessary, vital even. The trick, it seems, is having those scruples--and in spades--but rejecting "the will to purity" that curdles into scrupulosity.

---

Richard Beck is Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. He is the author of several books including Unclean, The Authenticity of Faith, and The Slavery of Death. Richard's published research also covers topics as diverse as the psychology of profanity to why Christian bookstore art is so bad. Richard also leads a bible study each week for fifty inmates at the maximum security French-Robertson unit. And any given week Richard drives the van, preaches or washes dishes at Freedom Fellowship, a church plant feeding and reaching out to those on the margins. Finally, on his popular blog Experimental Theology Richard will spend enormous amounts of time writing about the theology of Johnny Cash, the demonology of Scooby-Doo or his latest bible class on monsters.





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