Religious Liberalism: Out With the Old and In With the New?

An October 19, 2014 article from the Huffington Post ( touches on a very delicate issue that many religious groups are faced with in today’s world. That is, the constant struggle between conservatism and liberalism in religious traditions, and the paradigm shifts that occur when religious groups become more progressive.

As humanity progresses and develops new and often more open-minded views on issues (such as homosexuality, as noted in the aforementioned article), religious groups that are steeped in tradition find themselves struggling to accommodate both the progressive views of society at large and the sacred traditions that their religions’ are based upon. Often a trend will arise regarding a current issue that appears to be quite reasonable, and as such a religious group may wish to openly agree with the trend. But then, sacred texts and teachings within that religion may make it unacceptable, or at least awkward, for it to fall in line with the popular view. As such, debate inevitably arises over issues such as these, and religious groups begin to conflict internally over their paradigms (i.e., their worldviews).

With that being said, we are beginning to see more progressive attitudes in the religious world – arguably more than ever before. As the aforementioned article notes, Pope Francis himself boldly claimed that “God is not afraid of new things.” To see shifting paradigms in the religious world is rather interesting, as religions are often focused on very traditional doctrine (i.e., rules and principles, often based in sacred texts). The Christian religious tradition certainly is, with the Bible as its holy text. One would think that introducing altogether new ideas – ideas that seem to actually go against the teachings of sacred texts – would be quite antithetical to those religions.

Indeed, one way to look at a religion is to see it as a paradigm in itself: the religion is a worldview, rather a thing that has worldviews of its own. That is to say, then, that the writings that religions are often based upon make up the paradigm, and that to go against those writings would perhaps be akin to deviating from the religion altogether. This is where a serious concern lies for religious groups, and likely what the conservative side of each group is worried about: that to accommodate modern views that are in disagreement with traditional teachings may make it such that the group is not truly the same religion anymore.

At any rate, it is easy to see that this is certainly a difficult and complicated issue. The notion of shifting paradigms holds many implications for religious groups, and so the struggle between liberalism and conservatism within the religious world is very complex. And while it is unclear which side of the debate is right, it is evident nonetheless that religious groups are beginning to adopt a more progressive outlook.

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