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Forget Progressive Religion, Be Progressive About Religion

In a Religion Dispatches essay that deserves more attention than it is likely to get, Ivan Petrella argues that "progressive religion isn’t good enough for our nation. Instead, we need a shift in paradigm. We need to become progressive about religion." What does that mean? He explains:

Being progressive about religion requires rescuing the best of atheism and progressive Christianity while discarding their mistakes. From atheists, I’d rescue the commitment to reason. Like them, I’m unwilling to abdicate the use of my rational capacity in the name of faith. Unlike atheists, however, I don’t believe religions are false. Billions of people practice religions; in that sense they’re true. Billions of people believe in God, in that sense God does exist. Religions are true, but they’re not sacred. We need to be as self-reflective and critical of religion as we are of any other part of life.

From progressive Christians, I’d rescue the commitment to progressive understandings of faith and politics. But I’d reject their reliance on the Bible and Jesus. Here they are no different from the religious right, picking and choosing what suits them while ignoring what doesn’t.

It would be a relief to see the national discourse over religion shift to the rhetorical space Petrella is offering up here, if only because he offers a starting point that is firmly rooted in the realities of religious life in the United States. John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, authors of God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the Worlddeclare secularization theory dead in a recent piece for the Fox Forum:

Today it is secularization theory that is dead rather than religion. Religion continues to flourish in the United States. Megachurches across the country are full to overflowing. Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” has sold almost thirty million copies. Granted, the latest religious surveys show a rise in the number of non-believers, to around 15% of the population. But that is a tiny portion by European standards. The reason why so many atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have written books attacking God is that they feel on the defensive. You do not engage in battles that you think that you won years ago.

Sources: Religion DispatchesFox Forum