Growing Up Liberal

(My counterpoint to Philip Yancey’s “Growing Up Fundamentalist”)

One of my favorite hymns in my childhood is “One God” which was written by Barbra Streisand but was “hymnified” somewhere along the way.  It was a pleasantly scored music that stirred up the emotions as well as fed my mind.  There was this ambiguity to it that opened my mind to asking questions.   Key lyrics included “many a paths winding their way to one God” and “…men calling to him by many different names,” which in the immediate context of Ellinwood Malate Church seem to refer to the greater Christian community beyond our denomination (Presbyterian) represented.  However, an occasional interfaith event takes place and I begin to wonder if that ambiguity applies to the Buddhist, Hindu or Moslem names of their deities.  Of course, as I would find out later, Barbra Streisand is Jewish.

There were running debates among the knowledgeable; I had a cousin who thought that way and believed that all of humanity was ultimately saved by Jesus’ work on the cross and that evangelism was simply sharing the good news that all were indeed saved by God.  Of course, Ellinwood being what it is, has pockets of the opposing opinion that insisted that evangelism is all about calling upon Jesus and renouncing false gods.  I was barely into puberty when I got wind of all these and was more preoccupied with airplanes, cameras, and soon, girls.  I did not really care for these theological debates—yet.   I would walk away, however, with “One God” stuck in my head and its underlying theme which I have carried with me for the rest of my life: respecting other’s opinion as well as other religious paradigms.

College would later put a name to this philosophical and theological framework—liberal humanism—which at its core, values humanity above all else.  I can see where humanity becomes the center of the universe and how God ultimately becomes a mere comet zipping by.  That has been a stickler for many who would like to affirm the sovereignty and glory of God and thus making this paradigm less than what is deemed as “biblical”.  In the ensuing debates about the merits of liberal humanism, I fail to see the positive affirmation of this paradigm for its desire to bring unity to humanity and dignity to individuals with the same zeal that God in Jesus had in valuing men and women as worthy of his death on the cross.  That makes Jesus the ultimate humanist.


This made it easy for me to honor and respect anyone whatever religion or creed they may have, or at least up until they begin to irritate me (“I love humanity, its people I can’t stand”—Charles Schulz through Linus).  It also helped me to see beyond the apparent evil people manifest to allow me to reach out to many of my friends in later episodes in college.  But neither was I naively sympathetic—as a student of World War II history, I am well aware where British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain took this paradigm in relationship to Adolf Hitler.

The problem it created for me was that I affirmed someone for his or her belief, that other person usually went ahead to agree and affirm their own creed.

Me:  “You’re okay!”
Friend: “You’re right, we are okay.”
Me:  O_O
Friend: “So when will you become one of us…?”

It seemed that everyone else was a fundamentalist of sorts that would readily affirm and defend their position and were not usually in the mood to congratulate another for a different idea.  It created a dilemma in a manner that I cannot impose my liberalism and make everyone else think the way I do—that would be a contradiction.  To even attempt to convert someone to my mode of thinking was to declare that they are flawed and are therefore in need of fixing—a direct contradiction to acceptance and affirmation.

In that sense, being liberal was lonely and tiring.

Life actually becomes simpler when one retreats into a fundamentalist corner in contrast to shuffling around in the middle of the boxing ring.  My later shift to a form of fundamentalism was on one part a retreat, another part getting tired of it all.  When Muhammad Ali started out as Cassius Clay, he shuffled a lot—“float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”—because he admitted he was scared of being hit, but older and more resilient, he became like the lumbering hulks of the older generation he sought not to become like.

In that sense I was turning in that direction as I began to have this sense of nihilism, emptiness and loneliness mixed in one jumble of a mess that was compounded by adolescence transitioning to adulthood.  It became that I did not believe in anything and all that shuffling around as a liberal was merely skipping around inside a barrel that had no bottom.  In that sense, liberalism failed me.  The church I grew up in presumed too much and left me without a real foundation for my faith.

A form of fundamentalism was inevitable if I were to discover where my faith was ultimately rooted, thus the subsequent adventures that were to follow.