Postmodern Conservative

The Christian Liberalism of Marilynne Robinson

The other must-read piece on religion from the last couple days is from our friend Paul Seaton, with the hilarious title Moses, Calvin, and the Puritans Would’ve Listened to NPR If They Were Around Today.  Don’t let the humor’s edge mislead you into thinking it’s an attack on Robinson.  Rather, it’s an appreciative, balanced, and critically sober consideration of her writings on the nexus of religion and politics, especially those from a new book of hers.  

It’s an important piece for thinking about the liberal Christians in our midst–I mean the ones that are both theologically and politically liberal.  Some of their churches are fading membership-wise, as Rod Dreher notes in the piece linked to below, but we must note that some are holding their own.  One congregation in my Virginia city has a sign that says something like, “We’re Progressive, and We’re Still Thriving!”  I don’t think conservatives, religious or secular, should dismiss these churches as absurd, or as self-evidently irrelevant to the broader cultural conversation.  Most of them are far from being Unitarian in all but name.  In the Episcopal ones particularly, the Bible-studded liturgy is still there, for example, doing its silent work Sunday upon Sunday.  Robinson, a Calvinist, is arguably a product of an earlier time, but it remains significant that our liberal churches provide a religious home for people like her.  It is out of such churches, I dare to hope, that there may come the leaders necessary to reform/moderate/cleanse the Democratic Party, or at least one wing of it, if the hour for that long-needed movement ever arrives.  And she is of course right that there is a deep connection between modern democracy and Calvinism, as our Ralph Hancock has explored.

Paul’s piece has its very sobering moments, however.  Robinson’s love of Walt Whitman’s overall creed is rather disappointing to learn about, and makes me tempted to join one of those churches just so I can find a way to teach a Christian Education class that would delve into “Whether Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass Ought to Be Added to the Canon of Scripture?” 

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