A remarkable thing about religious liberalism is that it’s made all the worse stereotypes that Catholics and Protestants have about each other become largely true.
Consider the Protestant’s worst image of the Catholic Church. It would be that 1) the Church is basically a racket whereby the clergy financially defrauds the laity and gives nothing in return; 2) it ignores the plain meaning of Scripture to foist absurd dogmas on the laity; 3) it ignores supernatural faith and preaches salvation through works, and “works” always involves just shelling out more money. Now, these stereotypes were absolutely not true for the Church of Dante, Vincent de Paul, and Father Damien. They do describe uncomfortably well the post-Vatican II Church.
Consider #1. Now, it used to be thought that the clergy exist to serve the laity: to teach them the apostolic faith and dispense the sacraments. The laity are paying the priest’s salaries, and they’re entitled to those services. If a priest doesn’t want to preach the Catholic faith, he can find someone else to pay his salary. That attitude, dear friends, is now known as “integralism”, and anybody who’s anybody in the Church derides it. The idea of accountability for clergy belongs to those oppressive preconciliar days when priests and nuns were expected to serve the laity and teach the faith rather than heretical fads, and nobody much cared about their “self-actualization” or “academic freedom”. Nowadays, there’s only one article of faith that all our priests believe: that the world, or rather the laity, owe them a living and a platform for them to dispense their pet heresies.
Then there’s #2, which is pretty much standard fare in today’s liberal Catholic homilies and bible study guides. I remember one of the latter expressing scorn for the idea that God is angered by sin and punishes sinners. I challenge anyone to read the bible and come away with any other impression. Then there are the homilies. I remember one where the priest explained that the true meaning of the story of Mary and Martha is that women shouldn’t have to do housework. I remember one priest taking the side of the Prodigal Son, saying that his was a justifiable revolt against the injustice of primogeniture. Even the most orthodox I’ve encountered always claim that Saint Paul didn’t really mean that wives should obey their husbands. I must admit that a very “Protestant” sentiment has been building up inside me, the kind that makes me want to say “Show me where that’s in the Bible, or shut the hell up.”
Finally, there’s #3, about which little needs to be said. We’ve all been told to stop being otherworldly, forget our dogmatic hang-ups, and get to work for “social justice”. Justification comes not from buying indulgences, but by supporting higher taxes.
Then there’s Protestantism. A Catholic’s worst idea of Protestants would be this: 1) they disparage works to the point that they don’t mind if one is an unrepentent sinner so long as one has the correct beliefs; 2) they think that the most outlandish reading of scripture invented five minutes ago by an illiterate carries the same weight as the two-millenium tradition of the Fathers and saints; 3) the whole thing is a scam to provide cover for monks who don’t want to obey their vows of obedience and chastity, kings who don’t want to stick with their first wives, and princes who want to steal church property. Certainly, this does not describe the faiths of Calvin, Cranmer, and Wesley. It does bear more than a passing resemblance to post-Schleiermacher Protestantism, though.
As for #1, it’s certainly true that liberal Protestants don’t give a rat’s ass about godly living, just so long as one can mouth the appropriate PC shibboleths. Want to abandon your wife and children and take up with your sodomite lover? No problem! In fact, we’ll make you a bishop! Or look at the case of Karl Barth, who combined an affirmation of the Calvinist creed with a lifelong support for atheist communist tyranny. I would call this a large disconnect between faith and practice, but I wouldn’t want to be accused of “works righteousness”. Or, let’s take the case of divorce, which Jesus condemned in pretty strong terms. Is there any case when a Protestant congregation won’t approve of a divorce anymore? Just wanting one is supposed to create an unquestionable right. Freedom of the Christian indeed.
As for #2, it’s certainly a prime enabler of #1. “Don’t judge” means that we must not only refrain from guessing peoples’ spiritual states, we must also endorse every act that anyone engages in. “neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female” means we must dissolve the family and separate countries. The fact that nobody in the history of Christianity, including the Apostles themselves who were taught by Christ himself or Saint Paul who actually wrote some of those lines, understood it this way is no deterrant. Neither is the fact that they flatly contradict other lines in scripture. The liberal has his favorite text, and it’s all he needs.
#3 is sort of a restatement of #1, and it’s hard to deny that liberal Protestantism’s main selling points are that it offers the most sexual goodies to the faithful and the most unchecked power to the state.
So, the stereotypes are now true. I guess that means that liberal Christianity has succeeded in its aim of fostering interdenominational understanding.