Liberalism & its limits

Just as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are slugging their way toward new major league baseball home run records, two heavy-hitting (but, we trust, not testosterone-enhanced) sociologists have gone to bat in defense of liberalism in religion. In doing so, they have raised interesting questions for liberal Catholics whose views depart in some important ways from other forms of liberal Christianity.

In the September 11 issue of Commonweal ("The Revolutionary Event of Vatican II"), Andrew Greeley issued a summons for church authorities and Catholic conservatives to come to terms with the irreversible nature of the changes brought about by Vatican II, an event that shattered traditional authority structures and brought into existence a church where individual Catholics "decided that it was not wrong to be Catholic on their own terms." In a more surprising essay in the Christian Century ("Protestantism and the Quest for Certainty," August 26-September 2), Peter Berger, a neoconservative and a longtime critic of mainline Protestantism, came to the defense of liberal denominations that have seen their membership, intellectual credibility, and morale decline over the last three decades. "Religious institutions built on modern skepticisms will be fragile,’’ Berger wrote, "but they can show remarkable vitality.’’ Celebrating the Protestant principle of sola fide-"by faith alone"-Berger suggested that institutionally "weak"...

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