Why I Am Not a Progressive Christian

I grew up steeped in conservative Christianity only to make a 180° turn to cold, hard atheism in college. I took no detours in progressive Christianity, but I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be both a Christian and an open-minded, accepting person. Luckily, I’ve lately been enjoying Brenda Marie Davies’ YouTube channel, which is a glimpse into the lifestyle, opinions, and beliefs of a progressive Christian. If you can achieve a messy but confident faith in God and a loving call for equality and recognition for all, then why not embrace both?

I can see the intrigue of progressive Christianity when one’s alternatives are authoritarian religious denominations on one hand and atheism, which is often associated with nihilism, on the other. Although it apparently has a website, I’ve never really thought of progressive Christianity being any kind of definable sect. It seems more like if you pair stripped-down Christian beliefs with a Unitarian Universalist Humanist lifestyle. In other words, a typical progressive Christian would believe in the resurrection and teachings of Jesus without dragging along the traditional Christian dogmas of young-earth creationism, tribalism, homophobia, and sexual repression. (They might even vote Democrat! Egad!) Any progressive Christians reading this are welcome to give your own perspectives on what it means to you!

What a nit-picky skeptic I am that I still have a problem with progressive Christianity. To spoil my analysis for you a bit, I’ll say now that it isn’t a big problem. I’ve just always wondered at people like Brenda and even my own good friends: doesn’t being a good person, in a way, contradict your faith? I mean, the Old Testament just says horrific things. Never would I advocate for someone to, say, condemn gay marriage, but I just wonder if those who are both LGBTQ-affirming and bible-believing Christians ever feel cognitive dissonance about the two matters?

This brings me to a decision I made where, hypothetically, if I were a Christian, I decided I would be a progressive Christian rather than a conservative one, or a biblical literalist. I know the two options aren’t neatly packaged together (because, well, the bible isn’t entirely clear on everything), but this was the question I asked myself: is it better to be morally correct but intellectually/theologically inconsistent or theologically consistent but morally repugnant?

Granted, you may believe—or say you believe—everything in the bible, but you can’t live out its every word because there are parts that contradict each other. There just are. One command that comes up a lot is circumcision: in general, it is required in the Old Testament but condemned in the New. One might see this as an example of the tension between Judaism and Christianity, but the fact is that you can’t obey the commands of both Genesis 17:11 and Galatians 5:2.

Even so, I would venture to say that people like the Westboro Baptist Church take the bible way more literally than progressive Christians like Brenda. She says herself that she sees it with more nuance and doesn’t believe that it is literally true. But to phrase it biblically, look at the fruit (Matthew 7:16) of these extremists’ fringe biblical beliefs versus Brenda’s. It is a night and day comparison of hate versus love.

It gets more complicated yet. You see, the Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t act they way they do just to be hateful. They truly think that they are enacting God’s will. At the same time, progressive Christians don’t just throw out the window any bible verse that contradicts their modern worldview. Perhaps some do, but throughout her videos Brenda justifies her sex-positive, anti-purity-culture beliefs biblically. If I were a Christian, I might see some of her interpretations as a bit of a stretch, but if that’s how you live as both a Christian and a good person, does a little cognitive dissonance really hurt?

In the end, I would choose a loosely biblical, humanistic Christianity over an authoritarian, sectarian Christianity any day. But it seems that if you are a Christian, you do have to make a choice, and you can’t have both true consistency and commendable moral values. This is one of the many times that I’m just glad that I don’t have to choose. As an atheist, cognitive dissonance really isn’t an issue. That isn’t to say that atheism has no cognitive dissonance at all; is there any worldview without it? But I prefer to live with the abstract philosophical nuances that come with reconciling humanism with nihilism than trying to reconcile the worship of an angry patriarchal god with the command to love thy neighbor.

I like not being bound by any doctrine, even loosely. If I believe that my gay friends deserve the same rights that I daily enjoy, I don’t have to worry about how this will affect my interpretation of Leviticus 18:22. If I read a scientific book teaching that humans are made of star-stuff and are a product of billions of years of cosmic evolution, I don’t have to work to wonder if Genesis really meant six days or try to hold two beliefs that clearly cannot both exist in the same paradigm of reality.

Many conservative Christians would argue that I just want to “do whatever feels good,” but instead I just want to believe whatever is true and do whatever is right. And without religion, I can.


Some related blog posts for your perusal:

No True Christian – why, if I were to become a Christian, I wouldn’t know which type of Christian to be since there are so many different “flavors”. An interesting juxtapose to this post, written two years earlier.

What is Unitarian Universalist Humanism? – similar to this post but with Unitarian Universalist Humanism and not progressive Christianity.

Answers in Genesis? – an analysis that I made almost four years ago as to why it is easier to dismiss a claim entirely than to twist it unrecognizably.

8 thoughts on “Why I Am Not a Progressive Christian

      • Well, Christian Left can also be called populist Christian. This means CL stands for many populist ideas such as the universal health care, free college tuition, the worker’s right, the strict control of corporations, no foreign intervention and other issues affection the working class. The key difference between CL and PC is that CL does not subscribe to modernism as PC. This means CL will have NO part in things like identity politics. This is just a quick answer to your question; however, if you are interested and wants to know more in detail including the history please email as this will take more than a few posts.

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          • I may add also that the Christian Left or Christian Populist has nothing or little to do with so called Liberation Theology. This movement is prevalent amongst Catholics in the developing world as it takes its cue from the Marxist class struggle (which is based on the Hegelian dialectic). CL doesn’t incorporate (or tries not to because there are always some cross overs) this ideology because Marxism is the part of Modernity. CL is rooted in the Social Gospel movement which came about due to the Second Great Awakening (maybe also the first). So you see one needs the history to understand different movements within Christianity whether it’s liberal, conservative, progressive, fundamentalism, populist, traditionalist or what ever.

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  • Like you I grew up fundamentalist (Southern Baptist in my case) and ended up a non-theist/secularist. Unlike you I took a detour through Progressive Christianity and tried it out for almost a decade. It had its pros and cons. I know a lot of good people still in that community including many close friends. I learned a lot from writers who laid out a lot of interesting ways of viewing the history, theology, and ethics of Christianity form a Progressive viewpoint (Marcus Borg, John Shelby Spong, Brian McLaren, Anne Lamont, et.al.). Where you mentioned certain beliefs they keep you include Resurrection, etc.–even on points like that many Prog Xians diverge and don’t believe in a bodily resurrection, viewing it all as metaphor. Ultimately I’d say the majority of people who are in many ways secular but who remain in the church as a Prog-Xian do so because they find great value in the history, language, symbols and community. They interpret them wholly different but they find value in a body of believers to affect positive social change. They have a point–we atheists, agnostics and secularists don’t gather in groups very often or unify as a voting bloc, etc. Values ProgXians hold (like peace, justice, equality, forgiveness) are admirable in my viewpoint but ultimately I saw no need to espouse or give verbiage to beings and concepts I had no real belief in just to also hold and work towards some of those goals and my philosophy ultimately grew a bit more cynical than the typical ProgXian (just because you want something to be true, like “the moral arc of the universe is long but ultimately bends toward justice” doesn’t make it so).

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    • Well said! And I think you are right, when they say they believe in something like, for example the resurrection or even creation, it isn’t the way I have usually used the word “believe”. They can say they believe in it but mean that in a poetic or metaphorical sense but not literally. It can be confusing sometimes!

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  • One thing I came to understand early on in my adventures as a Christian is that most people do not understand what a Christian is.

    “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
    The lamb was the blood offering for sin. That was the Law of Moses. God gave His Son as the sin offering for once and for all. For all people for all time.

    What offering would one make that was more pleasing to God than the offering he provided Himself?

    Jesus Christ was the end of the law. The paradigm changed with the appearance of Christ. It was, after all, the great plan of God. Ask any preacher of Christian dogma.

    Hebrews 10:1 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things, by the selfsame sacrifices which they offer continually every year, can never make the comers thereunto perfect. 2 For then they would have ceased to be offered: because the worshippers once cleansed should have no conscience of sin any longer.…

    When the church demands that the Law of Moses be enforced along with the faith in Christ, they nullify the very thing they claim to represent. It is great confusion and cannot by their own scripture be reconciled. No one can function under two sets of laws which are mutually contradictive. Satan himself could not have written a better scenario.

    Paul asked in Romans 7. who can relieve me or rescue me from the law of the flesh? His answer is, Jesus Christ.

    It is easy to see the destructive nature of Christian teaching. Jesus Christ, of the scripture, was pretty damn progressive. The teachers of the Christian religion are pretty damn conservative.

    Republican Christians credit God with Rep. Cumming’s death.
    https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/10/17/1893251/-Republican-Christians-Credit-God-for-Killing-Elijah-Cummings

    Theocracy
    A theocracy is a form of government in which a deity of some type is recognized as the supreme ruling authority, giving divine guidance to human intermediaries that manage the day-to-day affairs of the government.

    “human intermediaries that manage the day-to-day affairs of the government.”
    This is what today’s Christians labor under today. The whims and fancies of a “human intermediary?” That is a scary proposition right there. That s what the Christian Nationalists have in mind for the whole USA and the world.

    Then think about this: everything you read in the scripture is written by some human intermediary.

    “Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.”
    -Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde
    -Oscar Wilde, writer (16 Oct 1854-1900)

    Religion and Christianity evolve like everything else in our experience.
    It is progress. There are those who work toward and teach regression, but they are failures.

    The Orionid meteor shower will peak Oct. 21-22. (Oct. 1 to Nov. 7) Enjoy.

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