But Bonnie’s life illustrates where American Mainline Protestantism has gone, the place at which it’s been aiming for generations: Christian in the righteous timbre of its moral judgments, without any actual Christianity; middle class in its social behavior, while ostensibly despising middle-class norms; American in its cultural setting, even as she believes American history is a tale of tyranny from which she and those like her have barely managed to escape.
…They are, for the most part, politically liberal, preferring that government rather than private associations (such as intact families or the churches they left behind) address social concerns. They remain puritanical and highly judgmental, at least about health, and like all Puritans they are willing to use law to compel behavior they think right. Nonetheless, they do not see themselves as akin to their Puritan ancestors, for they understand Puritanism as concerned essentially with sexual repression, and the post-Protestants have almost entirely removed sexuality from the realm of human action that might be judged morally.
…In their view, the social forces of bigotry, power, corruption, mass opinion, militarism, and oppression are the constant themes of history. These horrors have a palpable, almost metaphysical presence in the world. And the post-Protestants believe the best way to know themselves as moral is to define themselves in opposition to such bigotry and oppression — understanding good and evil not primarily in terms of personal behavior but as states of mind about the social condition. Sin, in other words, appears as a social fact, and the redeemed personality becomes confident of its own salvation by being aware of that fact. By knowing about, and rejecting, the evil that darkens society.
As it happens, that list of six evil social forces is taken straight from the writings of the theologian Walter Rauschenbusch, one of the key figures in the social gospel movement in American Protestantism during the early decades of the twentieth century.
That’s pretty funny. I’ve said before that the crusading atheists should start marketing their project as a continuation of the Protestant Reformation to make it less radical and threatening and more palatable to the mainstream. It’s merely the latest episode in a grand tradition of scraping away all the accumulations of superfluous dogma and outmoded practices! God himself just happened to go the way of indulgences, confession and transubstantiation. If they really want to speak to the spirit of our age, perhaps they should present themselves as spiritual efficiency consultants. “By removing these metaphysical redundancies, we aim to streamline the moral workplace and make the brand more competitive going forward…”