What is a religious progressive? That was the topic at a conference I attended this weekend in Nashville, TN. Most of the participants drew their insights from Jim Wallis (“God’s Politics”) and Michael Lerner (“Left Hand of God”), two wonderful thinkers who find in their respective faiths (Christianity and Judaism) a politics of compassion that surpasses the fear-based religions of the Religious Right.
I could and did nod in agreement. There is little if anything that either Jim or Michael says that I cannot support. But I have a contrarian streak; I need to stand out; to say something different. This is a psychological disorder, I am sure, but it is mine nonetheless. So when asked to define “religious progressive” I suggested that a religious progressive is someone who has progressed beyond religion.
At the heart of religion, or at least at the heart of the three Abrahamic religions, is the illusion of scarcity. God chooses Jews not Christians or Moslems; saves Christians not Jews or Moslems; and gives the one uncorrupted revelation to Moslems not Christians or Jews. Because God’s love is scarce, the religions that compete for that love share a zero-sum theology: for one to win, the others must lose.
Of course there are liberals in all three faiths who have outgrown this, but that isn’t enough. We have to name it and openly reject it. We have to own the fact that scarcity infects all three Abrahamic faiths in a way that makes them intrinsically fear-based and violent, and then we have to reinvent our respective faiths from a position of God’s infinite and timeless love (ahavah rabbah/ahavat olam, to use Jewish terms).
A true religious progressive is one whose faith is not in religion, but in God; not in the known but in the Unknowable; not in this or that belief but in the realization that belief is simply the projection of ones own ego.
The religion of a religious progressive is the religion of radical humility, hospitality, and holiness: admitting to not knowing the nature and mind of God; welcoming all to God’s feast regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, etc.; and using justice and compassion toward all beings as the standard by which to measure the value of any creed or system of belief. Religious progressives can be Jewish, Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, New Age, etc. What matters is not the label but the ability to hold it lightly, and to transcend it in the greater reality of the One Who is all.
Let us religious progressives stand for that, and we will stand for something invaluable.