Liberal Christianity is made up of three reductions:
1. The reduction of religion to morality.
2. The reduction of morality to love of neighbor.
3. The reduction of love of neighbor to tolerance plus welfare programs.
The classic expression of the first reduction is found in Matthew Arnold’s definition of religion as “morality touched by emotion.” Liturgy doesn’t much matter. Nor does dogma. And it certainly doesn’t matter whether your form of church government is congregational, presbyterian, episcopal, papal-episcopal, or even no-church-at-all.
God says, “I don’t care what you believe, how you worship, etc. Just be good.”
The reduction of morality to love of neighbor allows liberal Christians to escape from the Augustinian puritanism that has been the mark of orthodox Catholicism and classical Protestantism. As long as you love your neighbor, you are being good.
Thus moral goodness is compatible with fornication, unmarried cohabitation, out-of-wedlock childbirth, abortion (unborn babies don’t count as “neighbors”), and homosexual sodomy. It is also compatible with small-scale lying and cheating.
The reduction of love of neighbor to tolerance plus welfare programs makes it relatively easy for very busy modern men and women to be good Christians. Being tolerant of almost everything except murder, rape, arson, bank robbery, child molestation, and a small number of other crimes — this is something you can do, at least once you’ve developed a knack for it, with a minimum expenditure of time and energy. As for loving by means of welfare programs, all you have to do is pay your taxes and vote the straight Democratic ticket.
Now I realize that the above account is a caricature. I myself know liberal Christians who impress me with their very high levels of moral goodness, much higher than my own.
Many religious liberals, having given up the dogmatic beliefs of their childhood religion, a religion to which they were warmly attached, re-double their attachment to the moral aspects of that religion, as if an extra dose of goodness will make up for the disappearance of dogma. As a result they actually do love their neighbors — and not just by being tolerant and paying their taxes and voting for Democrats. These “Christians” have a morally serious religion, even though it is, intellectually speaking, an almost content-less religion.
But a good caricature bears a strong resemblance to its original, and I think my above account is a fair representation of the religion of most liberal Christians. Theirs is an exceedingly “thin” religion, so thin and ghost-like that it’s always on the verge of vanishing into thin air, and it often does vanish. It’s not the kind of religion you can readily hand on to your children and grandchildren.
Speaking roughly and generally, liberal Christianity (and liberal Judaism too, for what I’m saying applies mutatis mutandis to Judaism as well) is a way-station — a temporary motel, so to speak — on the great ideological highway that leads from classical Christianity at one terminus to atheism at the other.