Douthat’s NYT Op-Ed: Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?

From Hell’s Bible, aka The New York Times:

Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?  [In this case I am in favor of euthanasia.]


IN 1998, John Shelby Spong, then the reliably controversial Episcopal bishop of Newark, […who, if I recall correctly, at one point said he did not believe in God…] published a book entitled “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” Spong was a uniquely radical figure — during his career, he dismissed almost every element of traditional Christian faith as so much superstition — but most recent leaders of the Episcopal Church have shared his premise. Thus their church has spent the last several decades changing and then changing some more, from a sedate pillar of the WASP establishment into one of the most self-consciously progressive Christian bodies in the United States.

[NB] As a result, today the Episcopal Church looks roughly how Roman Catholicism would look if Pope Benedict XVI suddenly adopted every reform ever urged on the Vatican by liberal pundits and theologians. [Excellent.] It still has priests and bishops, altars and stained-glass windows. But it is flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes.

Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase.

This decline is the latest chapter in a story dating to the 1960s. The trends unleashed in that era — not only the sexual revolution, but also consumerism and materialism, multiculturalism and relativism — threw all of American Christianity into crisis, and ushered in decades of debate over how to keep the nation’s churches relevant and vital.

Traditional believers, both Protestant and Catholic, have not necessarily thrived in this environment. The most successful Christian bodies have often been politically conservative but theologically shallow, preaching a gospel of health and wealth rather than the full New Testament message.

But if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance. Within the Catholic Church, too, the most progressive-minded religious orders have often failed to generate the vocations necessary to sustain themselves.  [Hear that LCWR?]

Both religious and secular liberals have been loath to recognize this crisis. Leaders of liberal churches have alternated between a Monty Python-esque “it’s just a flesh wound!” bravado and a weird self-righteousness about their looming extinction. (In a 2005 interview, the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop explained that her communion’s members valued “the stewardship of the earth” too highly to reproduce themselves.)

Liberal commentators, meanwhile, consistently hail these forms of Christianity as a model for the future without reckoning with their decline. [Hear that Fishwrap?] Few of the outraged critiques of the Vatican’s investigation of progressive nuns mentioned the fact that Rome had intervened because otherwise the orders in question were likely to disappear in a generation. [I wonder… in this case could we support assisted-suicide?] Fewer still noted the consequences of this eclipse: Because progressive Catholicism has failed to inspire a new generation of sisters, Catholic hospitals across the country are passing into the hands of more bottom-line-focused administrators, with inevitable consequences for how they serve the poor.  [Right!  And these liberal nuns blather on and on about helping the poor, serving the poor, the poor, the poor, while they are making sure that they have no vocations to perpetuate their work. Charity considers the true need of the other.  Were those sisters truly interested in the poor, they would adopt a model of religious life that inspires vocations to the communities so that they can continue to help the people they profess to want to serve.  Is this rocket science?  I think not.]

But if liberals need to come to terms with these failures, religious conservatives should not be smug about them. The defining idea of liberal Christianity — that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion — has been an immensely positive force in our national life. No one should wish for its extinction, or for a world where Christianity becomes the exclusive property of the political right.  [However, in concrete terms I don’t think our hospitals and schools were built in an age when the liberal/progressivist thing dominated.]

What should be wished for, instead, is that liberal Christianity recovers a religious reason for its own existence. As the liberal Protestant scholar Gary Dorrien has pointed out, the Christianity that animated causes such as the Social Gospel and the civil rights movement was much more dogmatic than present-day liberal faith. Its leaders had a “deep grounding in Bible study, family devotions, personal prayer and worship.” They argued for progressive reform in the context of “a personal transcendent God [There it is!  “TRANSCENDENT”!] … the divinity of Christ, the need of personal redemption and the importance of Christian missions.”

Today, by contrast, the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism. Which suggests that perhaps they should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world.

Absent such a reconsideration, their fate is nearly certain: they will change, and change, and die.

WDTPRS kudos to Mr. Douthat.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Legisperitus says:

    Unusual amount of insight for that publication.

    In a way, though, liberal Christianity has always been a sort of parasite on the healthy Church, and if it saps the strength of its host too much the parasite can’t survive either.

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  3. chcrix says:

    To answer the question: No. Next question please.

    “— that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion — has been an immensely positive force in our national life.”

    I strongly disagree. If one thinks that the last hundred years or so has been positive for “our national life” one needs to pay closer attention. What has that social gospel given us? Prohibition? Cop to the World? Failed Social programs that have the exact opposite effect to those that were intended? Public Schools that attempted to eradicate Catholic schools? And don’t forget that the social gospel goofballs of a century ago considered Catholics not to be christian.

    Nope, they’re dying because their social gospel focus has left them devoid of theological content. One seeks the transcendent through religion. If there is no transcendence, there is no purpose in the religion.

    They’re dying – and I’m not weeping.

  4. AnAmericanMother says:

    The usual suspects are beating up Douthat over at Hell’s Bible — especially the “out and proud” Episcopalians (who must not have looked around to see that not only are they not having children, neither are the people in the next pew).
    I think he doesn’t go far enough, though. It was not the liberal denominations who accomplished much of anything, socially or otherwise, that benefitted society. They basically adopted fashionable liberal political views and jettisoned any religious belief (other than that which supported their fashionable liberal political views, which of course is not religious belief, it’s just a cynical pose to fool the sheep in the pews). That’s not a religion, that’s just another political action group. You can see it in “little-c” catholic dissenters who think entirely in political terms and think that Truth is negotiable to support their political views.
    Catholics who think that this is the way to go should stop and think again. The Episcopal Church is basically where the politically-liberal Catholics want to take the Church, and after all it has worked out so well for them . . . .

  5. Johnno says:

    All the so called ‘liberal causes’ are neither new, nor liberal, they’re simply fuonded on age old common sense truths that are neither ‘liberal’ nor ‘conservative.’ They simply are… in the same way God simply is… based in truth and logic and sheer reality. There is no such thing as either a liberal Church, or a conservative Church. There is simply the Church, and everything else that is not the Church. Within the Church can be some liberal and conservative approaches to certain things within restrictions of the moral law and truth. But other than that it’s pretty black and white, and he who does not stand for Christ in totality, acts against Him.

  6. Will D. says:

    That second paragraph exactly hits the nail on the head. Catholics who resort to the modernist idea that the Church should “change to make itself more relevant” should absolutely view the Episcopalians as a cautionary example. They bend to each passing fancy of the secular society and jettison (or at least hush up) Christian teaching in the process, and they accomplish nothing and please no one.

  7. haribo says:

    The comments on that article are a little disturbing. A lot them dismiss Christianity as myth, an immature belief system that humanity has to grow out of. Others try to equate conservative Christianity with the extreme right. One comment that struck me in particular: “That’s why liberal Christianity will die- liberals don’t need it.”

    At least the think they don’t need it. Proponents of an ideology that advocates radical autonomy won’t see any need for their Creator in their pursuit of personal indulgence. How could a feminist, for example, who seeks to “free” women from the bonds of marital interdependence or the self-sacrifice of child rearing, ever value the saintliness of St. Therese’s childlike dependence on God. A spiritual life ordered toward God’s will, (aka divine love) is a horrible threat to individualism, as is truth itself.

  8. lelnet says:

    If folks want to spend their time immersed in leftist ideas and political causes, they have television for that. And television is more entertaining.

  9. Long-Skirts says:

    “Leaders of liberal churches have alternated between a Monty Python-esque “it’s just a flesh wound!”

    Oh, Lord, our God…You are so — so — BIG!!

  10. Supertradmum says:

    The article is a good starting point for discussion for it does not go far enough. We should be questioning whether Liberal Christianity is really Christianity at all. The fact that most Christians churches in America are a conglomeration of heresies denying the basic tenants of the Creed, and the fact that false ecumenism has fallen into the heresy of eirenism, which overlooks serious differences for the sake of a soft unity has been overlooked by most Catholics.

    Liberal Christianity will implode, as all evil does. Evil cannot create, it can only destroy. So, the Church of Bob in Florida will merely be one more church of the denial of one of these basic truths-the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, the Trinity, sacramental theology-including the denial of some sacraments as such, the headship of Peter, the existence of heaven and hell, the judgement, the evil of homosexual acts, the existence of a visible church, the historicity of Christ, the Canon of the Scriptures, the sacredness of the Scriptures, and so on.

    One of the points of Dominus Iesus, which in my opinion is one of the most significant documents of the past 25 years, is that there are only a few real religions and real churches. Oh no, we cannot upset the Protestants, especially the Liberal Christians, as they call themselves Christian and we must accept their claims to be such.

    No, they are churches with an assortment of heresies which must be condemned and sorted out.

    Liberal Christianity is a myth. And, as a myth, it will die.

  11. Dismas says:

    This article is quite a paradigm shift for me. Until reading this, I have to admit, I was guilty of always assuming that, first, liberals were knowingly and intentionally attempting to create a false peace on earth without Jesus, His Cross or our Church. Second, to achieve this goal, that included intentionally hurting me and anyone else who stood in their way. Third, that they rejoiced in their declining vocations because this signaled the success of their nefarious plan.

    Until now, it never crossed my mind, that maybe, just maybe, they may be just as sorrowful over the decline and possible extinction of their orders entrusted to them by once heroic founders who certainly, they must realize, have somehow been betrayed and disgraced?

    Certainly I am guilty of smugness in their regard. I really don’t care to see their extinction. It seems to me the constant tug and pull between subsidiarity vs. solidarity (if I’m using the correct concepts) would be a great loss within our Church.

    Mind blowing, much to reassess and think about, of course I’ll have to stay off fishwrap for awhile in order for this line of thought to really sink in.

  12. NoTambourines says:

    Of course they’re shrinking:

    1. In liberal Christian schools of thought, everything is ultimately optional.
    2. Nobody’s reproducing.

  13. Dave N. says:

    One thing missing from this analysis is the declining church membership overall in the U.S. since around the year 2000–and how this decline is also beginning to affect Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics. It’s not just liberal churches that are dying. We are following in Europe’s footsteps; some groups are just getting there faster than others.

  14. Clinton says:

    “The defining idea of liberal Christianity– that faith should spur social reform as well as
    personal conversion– has been an immensely positive force in our national life”

    I think Mr. Douthat’s statement reveals the great flaw in his assumptions about liberal LCWR-
    style Christians and the rest of us. He has the idea that liberals somehow have the monopoly on
    social activism and desire to reform society. The pro-life movement certainly aims at social
    reform, yet it is the traditional Christians who embrace it, and the ‘progressive’ Christians
    who view it with indifference or barely-concealed contempt. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King
    Jr. is an icon for liberal Christians who tout his fight for civil rights, yet they ignore the
    traditional belief in sin and man’s need for salvation that was the foundation for his ministry.
    (They also conveniently ignore that he was a lifelong Republican). Were he alive today, I
    doubt MLK could get his calls returned by the LCWR, nor would he be invited to one of
    Spong’s cocktail parties.

    If I had to describe what is the actual defining idea of liberal Christianity, I’d say it is the
    inversion of the traditional relationship between theology and ideology. For a traditional
    Christian, the faith makes demands on praxis– one lives out one’s faith, and shapes one’s
    views according to the truths of the faith. Liberal LCWR-types demand that faith be shaped
    by the demands of ‘progressive’ ideology. They live out their ideology, the golden calf they
    worship, and expect that Truth be shaped by their views. It’s all as doomed and empty as
    an IHM convent.

  15. The Cobbler says:

    “But if liberals need to come to terms with these failures, religious conservatives should not be smug about them. The defining idea of liberal Christianity — that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion — has been an immensely positive force in our national life. No one should wish for its extinction, or for a world where Christianity becomes the exclusive property of the political right.”
    Surely there’s such a thing as a Christianity that holds that the Faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion and yet does not reject any of the doctrines about that very Faith and precisely what conversion and reform it requires. Just because liberalism focuses pretty much exclusively on social reform doesn’t mean it has a monopoly on political reform, any more than Protestants’ exclusive focus on Scripture makes Scripture their property rather than the Church’s.

  16. I think that Douthat, by asking

    Can liberal Christianity be saved?

    has actually asked the wrong question. The proper question is “can liberal Christianity be expunged?” And, unfortunately, the answer is in the negative, that is assuming that by “expunged” we mean once, for all. The reason for my negativity is really quite simple.

    I have by pure happenstance read in the past sennight (or thereabouts) a small (177 pgs., incl. footnotes) book by Lloyd Billingsley titled The Absence of Tyranny: Recovering Freedom in Our Time published in 1986. The Foreword was written by my, and Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s, fellow former Lutheran and convert to Catholicism, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Billingsley makes an compellingly cogent case that both political and religious liberalism are not the rational gathering and analysis of data followed by the drawing of conclusions therefrom. They are, rather, ideologies, in the original sense of that word, not its present rather vague usage. From Billingsley, p. 68 [footnotes deleted]:

    The word ideology was first used as idéologie during the French Revolution and is intrinsically bound up with the idea of revolution and the “structural” change of society. Destutt de Tracy penned five volumes (1801-1815) titled Les Éléments d’Idéologie in which the revolutionary ethos is expounded… This is a matter of history and etymology. The term was meant to be scientific, but ideology bears all the marks of a secular religion and probably gained rapid acceptance because it filled a void for those who had discarded Christianity.

    Ideology is a dogma of structural or systemic evil. It holds that free Western nations are not truly free, and that they alienate people, whether they know it or not. Therefore the present structures, not individuals, need to change in order for society to be redeemed. Ideology holds out a promise of social redemption, which is often weak on the practical side. Much stronger is ideological demonology; the ideologist has a theory of why people oppose him.

    Billingsley then proceeds to a fairly detailed discussion of Ideology, its “Mindset,” its “Arguments,” and its Consequences, before discussing how free people live, freedom and equality, and the defense of freedom both short and long term.

    The reason that it will not be eliminated prior to the day of judgment is that we will always have some number of ideologues with us until then.

    I personally found the book very helpful in more completely understanding a source of the apparent irrationality of most all things, and people, liberal (in the modern sense). I would recommend it to anyone interested in understanding why liberals appear so irrational (not just because they are, but in what way their irrationality is expressed. And that is an invaluable help in forming argumentation that will leave them no escape.

    Good condition used copies are widely available (search the title on if you can’t obtain a copy from your local lending library.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  17. Random Friar says:

    A question for all the faithful who are all gung-ho for dying out and not reproducing:

    What would Mr. Charles Darwin make of a species that was not smart enough to reproduce itself?

  18. cjcanniff says:

    Last summer while in Barcelona before World Youth Day in Madrid, I was browsing the items being sold by street vendors in the square in front of St Eulalia Cathedral. I found a copy of a daily Roman Missal for the laity from the 1930s. It was an interesting piece because the Latin was on one side and on the facing page was its translation into the Catalan dialect of Spanish. I decided to purchase this unique find. And now, whenever I stumble upon an old religious book, I buy it to add to my collection.

    Just last week while vacationing in Maine, my brother noticed a pocket-sized book sitting in an unnoticed corner of a small gift shop. He brought it to my attention, and I realized that it was a copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Its original owner had written the date “Palm Sunday 1912” on the inside cover. Naturally, I bought it to add to my collection. Having taken the time to peruse it in the last few days, I must say that the Episcopal Church has come a long way in the last 100 years – and not for the better. Many Episcopalians today would bristle at the devout language in this old book, especially some of the orthodox statements found in the “Catechism” section.

  19. albinus1 says:

    It was an interesting piece because the Latin was on one side and on the facing page was its translation into the Catalan dialect of Spanish.

    Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish, anymore than Dutch is a dialect of German. Catalan is a Romance language in its own right, even though its speakers don’t have their own independent country. Yes, it is close to Spanish in many ways, but so are Portuguese and Italian.

  20. PostCatholic says:

    I have been mulling this article over since I read it with my morning coffee. I think the problem I have with it is that the examples which Douthat cited are of liberalized Christian religions (“progressive Catholics”, Episcopal theologians Spong and Dorrien, “Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian”). As he wrote, these are religions which have “tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values,” while at base they are still dogmatic in nature and conservative in worship style. Today, either they’ve pushed out the liberal reformers in a backlash as Catholicism has;or they’ve given them so much room so quickly that they failed to articulate the connection between their liturgical tradition and their theology has become a confused hodgepodge of old and new (and the Episcopal church is quite rightly cited as the prime example).

    This evening, I tried to investigate the membership trends of what I consider more authentically “liberal” Christian–churches whose polity is not clerical but congregational, and whose theology is (or mostly is) both Christian and non-creedal in nature with an emphasis on a “priesthood of all believers” or “continuing revelation”. So I looked at trends for membership among the Quakers (down a bit but not preciptiously), Congregationalists/UCC (stagnant), Unity (up), Stone-Campbell churches like the Disciples (down a bit) and New Thought (I really couldn’t find numbers but I suspect the Unity Church has grown).

    From my highly unscientific internet-based research of an evening, I extrapolate that these liberal Christian religions are declining in adherence at roughly the same pace all Christianity is in America. So I’m not sure the problem is with liberal Christianity but with mainline and even conservative Christianity that has presented a confused message and tried to be all things to all people.

  21. fvhale says:

    If anyone wants another book, you might take a look at Ross Douthat’s
    “Bad Religion: How we became a nation of heretics,” 352 pp., published by Free Press, April 2012.

    Chapter 3, “Accommodation,” says a lot about the Episcopal Church. But it also mentions the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States after the Second Vatican Council. From p. 94: “Everyone had to subsume their theological particularities…because and ecumenical and tolerant faith was what the times demanded.”

    And from pp. 95-96, “None of this [from the Second Vatican Council] amounted to a formal shift away from Catholic orthodoxy. However, a generation of Catholic leaders wasn’t entirely mistaken in claiming that there was a “spirit of Vatican II” easing the Church toward ever greater accommodation with the modern world. Nor were they mistaken in seeing an opportunity, as the Council’s decrees passed from theory into practice, to push the Church much further in this direction than the Council had been willing to go….This accommodationist spirit was strongest…in the intermediate institutions of Catholicism: the religious orders and the universities, the seminaries and diocesan bureaucracies and liturgical committees.”

    A very nice quote from p. 283: “Like W. H. Auden wandering amid the shuttered churches of 1930s Spain, perhaps Americans will survey the wreckage all around them and turn one again to a more rigorous and humble form of Christian faith. Perhaps the experience of a financial meltdown will help vindicate orthodox Christianities critique of avarice and greed. Perhaps the lived reality of family breakdown and social isolation will make Christianity’s emphasis on chastity, monogamy and fidelity more compelling. Perhaps the spectacle of polarization and gridlock will inspire greater realism about the ability of politics to serve God’s purposes, and put an end to the persistent conflation of partisan and religious loyalties.”

    I think Douthat’s book is worth some attention.

  22. AnnAsher says:

    It only makes sense that if you take away the “hard sayings” there is no need for a church.

  23. Clinton R. says:

    I think liberal “Christianity” can be summed up as making God in man’s image. This is the result of the fracturing of the Church, of man in his arrogance seeking to create a church that validates him, instead of being on his knees in the presence of God. It signifies a lack of belief that God knew what He was doing in founding His One and Only Church upon St. Peter. In the early centuries of the Church, we had heretics denying the Divinity of Jesus. 500 years ago, Martin Luther broke away from the Church and created his own doctrine and theology that has mutated into the pan-Christian federation of churches we see today. When you have ecclesial communities that lack a true head (ie the Pope), then beliefs and doctrine and liturgy can be made up as you go along. Sadly, those in the Catholic Church saw Vatican II as the perfect opportunity to foist on us their liberalistic novelties that have lead to a loss of faith in so many nations around the world. Once thriving Catholic countries have been drastically reduced as the modernists turned timeless Catholic liturgy, doctrine and theology into a fuzzy, feel good schlock fest that has turned off many and has destroyed the sense of transcendence that is uniquely felt in the awe inspiring Tridentine Mass.

  24. Sissy says:

    “Liberal” Christianity (in the sense that “liberal” is used now) is a contradiction in terms. I prefer “progressive christianity” or “christian socialism” since I hate to give up the beautiful word “liberal” in it’s original 19th C. meaning. Catholicism is truly “liberal” in the very best sense of the word. [It’s sad that we allow our language to be hijacked for the purposes of the enemy.]

    Christianity is a true and authentic reflection of reality as it is; it is the Truth, in absolute terms, given to us by Ultimate Authority. What progressives claim their version of christianity to be is just each person’s own individual preference and opinion. “You can have it your way!” is their motto. That is why you see christianist groups shattering again and again into smaller and smaller sub-groups. There are literally millions of these individual, little christianities – as many as there are relativists. Progressive christianity is relativism dressed up with religious imagery or practice, but it’s really just self-worship. This is an old, old form of religion. It bears only the most superficial resemblance to real Christianity, which it seeks to impersonate for purposes of deception by which the unwary are led astray. Our ancient enemy is happy to have silly people claiming to be christians so long as what they actually believe is the antithesis of the true faith.

    Catholicism, on the other hand, is the Real Thing. God calls us again and again to “choose this day whom you will serve”. Progressive christians will not serve Him or His Church, because they already have a god whom they love above all else. They have “set up on their own” as Lewis says. New groups crop up all the time, but the desire to serve oneself is as old as time and underlies all of their false religions. As those who follow Scripture and believe in Truth peel away, the mainline protestant and cino groups become more concentrated in their errors and more estranged from Christian thought. They are floating off across stormy seas in their little row boats as we who are safely aboard the great barque of Peter sadly watch them disappear over the horizon. All heresies must eventually die while Catholicism lives on.

  25. BillyT92679 says:

    Coincidentally, yesterday was the 75th birthday of M. Rev. Matthew Clark, Bishop of Rochester. Arguably the most liberal Catholic bishop in America today.

    Having lived in Rochester for nine years (and now in the more orthodox Diocese of Buffalo) I’m curious to see who his replacement will be. The scuttlebutt is Bishop Perry, the Chicago auxiliary.

    I lived during the Corpus/Spiritus Christi schism. But honestly stuff that got pretty close to that happened in so many churches there.

  26. Sid says:

    First a definition:

    Liberal Christianity began first among the Latitudinarians in Anglicanism, and its hallmark was no doctrinal emphasis, and a “low” liturgical style. Its cause was the overthrow of the legitimate King James II by the Orange Whigs, the misnamed “Glorious Revolution” – “glorious” because it was said to be bloodless (it wasn’t bloodless in Ireland or Scotland). So with a political revolution came a religious one.

    The second root of Liberal Christianity was in 19th C German Lutheranism, with a deeper root in the so-called “Enlightenment”. Its most famous exponents were first the man who cost Nietzsche and Feuerbach their faith: David Strauß, and the most systematic treatment in Albrecht Ritschl. Its principles in dogma were that there are no dogmas (Newman: Liberalism as the anti-dogmatic position) and a kind of Hegelian view that the Church’s beliefs are conditioned by time; what was once true isn’t true now. In morals the Liberal view is that man is a pretty good fellow, and all he needs in moral guidance.

    In the Catholic Church, the position is call “modernism”.

    Second the judgement: Yes it is dying, and for a 2nd time! With the coming of World War I and in tandem Protestant Neo-Orthodoxy, it because clear that humans need both dogma and something more than moral guidance. We were told that man is a pretty good fellow, and all he needs is moral guidance; and what we got was gas chambers and atomic bombs.

    Liberalism was revived in the 1960s, with a new twist: “low liturgy so low as to be banal. It’s dying again.

    I should say at once that we need to keep the good fruit of Liberalism: The historical-critical method of reading Scripture. I should also say at once that the historical-critical method is not enough, and Fr. Z has told us.

  27. irishgirl says:

    In reference to the liberal religious Orders who used to run hospitals and have now (due to the lack of vocations) abdicated to ‘the bottom-line’ control of laymen instead-I know about it first hand in my Upstate NY diocese. Both the hospitals that this particular Order founded in the 19th century have only a token number of rapidly aging Sisters on staff, but for the most part they are lay-run (I think one of them is an ex-priest).
    Sad, indeed.
    You are absolutely right in your long ‘red’ comment about this, Father Z!

  28. Beau says:

    LOL. The answer is “No”. I read this just a few days ago:'s_Law_of_Headlines

  29. Rick DeLano says:

    “I should say at once that we need to keep the good fruit of Liberalism: The historical-critical method of reading Scripture.”

    Umm, that is not the fruit of liberalism.

    It is its root.

    If you keep the historical-critical method of reading Scripture, you end up with Cardinal Pell being skewered by Richard Dawkins for the lack of a coherent understanding of Original Sin- that is, why Jesus Christ was Incarnated in the first place.

  30. FaithfulCatechist says:

    A faith that merely conforms to the spirit of the age is not a faith people will die for. It’s certainly not a faith people will get up early on Sunday for.

  31. Athelstan says:

    Coincidentally, yesterday was the 75th birthday of M. Rev. Matthew Clark, Bishop of Rochester. Arguably the most liberal Catholic bishop in America today.

    The damage that His Excellency has done to Rochester…will take many years to undo.

    Let us all pray for a good shepherd to succeed him. And for God to sustain him once he does. He will have his work cut out for him.

  32. Johnno says:

    Christianity is not a liberal religion. It is rooted in dogma and fact and unchangeable truth. Christianity is, however, a religion of liberty. Liberty from sin and death. But of course, God is liberal, in the sense that you can exercise free will and choose to reject Him and choose hell. You can destroy yourself and wallow in sorrow and pain if that’s what you choose to do because your pride would rather choose that over being with Him.

    —“I should say at once that we need to keep the good fruit of Liberalism: The historical-critical method of reading Scripture. I should also say at once that the historical-critical method is not enough, and Fr. Z has told us.”—

    Terrible idea. This very thing is what has led to widespread disbelief in Scripture, in the history of Genesis, to rejection of dogmas that all of humanity is descended from Adam and Eve, to widespread acceptance of the most liberal and modernist belief of all > Evolution. The errors of Biological evolution, cosmological evolution, and sociological evolution. In this religion of evolution, religion is merely a product of man, a stepping point, subject to change and alteration over the natural course of events. People who believe religion is thus no doubt believe further evolution is needed to change the Church. The Church is established on divine revelation and unchanging truth. It is not a product of random evolution from other false faiths. Man does not need to ‘evolve’ to accept new definitions and diversity of sex and meaningless vague moral standards. This is a product of the devil to make the creation meaningless, subject to change beyond its dictates and thus leads to an erroneous conclusion about the nature of God and man’s relationship with Him.

  33. Sid says:

    Rich DeLano:

    There are two alternatives to historical-critical method:

    1. Reading the text in Christo, and this alternative really isn’t just an alternative; it builds on historical-critical method. One first must know what the text meant in its co-text and context. To read Christo presupposes that one first has read historically-critically. Fr. Z has the correct critique of historical-critical method: It’s fine when establishes the meaning in the past, when the text was written. It’s not enough, because it leaves it in the past.

    2. The other alternative is to make the text mean whatever you want it to mean.

    These are your alternatives.

  34. BillyT92679 says:

    +Clark definitely did open the doors to some awful experimentation, but I tend to put the blame on Rochester just as much on the clergy and laity who were already there. Bishop Clark was what they wanted. They had Venerable Fulton Sheen as the Ordinary in the sixties in the immediate post VII days and through Humanae Vitae, and many rejected him as too old school, too reactionary. Rochester was an Alinsky town. He set up shop there around the riots of ’64. Upwardly mobile limosine Liberals and Country Club Republicans. Demographically it was the same Big Three of Irish, Italian, and Polish that dominate all the upstate NY cities, but economically and culturally it was distinct. White collar instead of blue. Rejected the Italian and Polish grandmother Altar Rosary Societies as imbecilic piety.

    There are on fire Catholics there, many good lay folks like the ones at, and great priests like Father Antinarelli. But there are many churches that, although didn’t go over the edge to outright schism like Spiritus Christi did, certainly were in lockstep with the National Catholic Reporter.

  35. PostCatholic says:

    Sid, your definition was quite helpful to me. Thank you. I was confusing liberal Christianity with Liberal Christianity and trying in my thought to draw distinctions with Liberal Religion.

  36. The Cobbler says:

    I’m late to recomment, but I think people are referring to two different things here when they speak of “historical critical method”… One person uses it to mean reading the scriptures in context, which is part of taking them seriously in their own right, while others use it to mean, if it’s what I’m thinking of, projecting our own ideas of the differences between culture then and now onto the scriptures rather than taking them seriously in their own right. The former is not a fruit of liberalism in any of the modern senses of the term, as it not only predates it but has nothing to do with it one way or the other — it’s just part of realistic reading of any text. The latter is typically employed against orthodoxy and likewise has nothing to do with the former.

  37. Rick DeLano says:


    How strange.

    I had thought there was another alternative:

    The unanimous consensus of the Fathers (dogmatically defined at Trent).

  38. catholicmidwest says:

    There’s no need for us to go changing all that stuff. If people want that stuff, they can get it from the Episcopalians. Plug and play, no need to do all that work.

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