My thoughts here were spurred by the essay written by Aurora Dagny entitled "Everything is Problematic."
As someone who identifies as a progressive Christian I found Aurora's essay to be very thought-provoking. The essay describes Aurora's journey into radical, leftist activism and the reasons she eventually stepped away. If you're a progressive Christian like me I encourage you to read the whole thing.
The one thing I want to draw attention to his how a purity mentality ran through the leftist and radical groups Aurora worked with. Interestingly, this purity mentality was oriented around a set of "sacred beliefs"--an "orthodoxy." This is exactly what you see among evangelical Christians. More, this orthodoxy is used to separate "the good guys" from "the bad guys." Beliefs create warrants for social exclusion, expulsion and scapegoating.
Aurora describing this:
One way to define the difference between a regular belief and a sacred belief is that people who hold sacred beliefs think it is morally wrong for anyone to question those beliefs. If someone does question those beliefs, they’re not just being stupid or even depraved, they’re actively doing violence. They might as well be kicking a puppy. When people hold sacred beliefs, there is no disagreement without animosity. In this mindset, people who disagreed with my views weren’t just wrong, they were awful people. I watched what people said closely, scanning for objectionable content. Any infraction reflected badly on your character, and too many might put you on my blacklist. Calling them ‘sacred beliefs’ is a nice way to put it. What I mean to say is that they are dogmas.What is fascinating to me is how this is the exact same psychological dynamic at work among conservative, evangelical Christians. It's just the progressive version of it.
Thinking this way quickly divides the world into an ingroup and an outgroup — believers and heathens, the righteous and the wrong-teous. “I hate being around un-rad people,” a friend once texted me, infuriated with their liberal roommates. Members of the ingroup are held to the same stringent standards. Every minor heresy inches you further away from the group. People are reluctant to say that anything is too radical for fear of being been seen as too un-radical. Conversely, showing your devotion to the cause earns you respect. Groupthink becomes the modus operandi. When I was part of groups like this, everyone was on exactly the same page about a suspiciously large range of issues. Internal disagreement was rare. The insular community served as an incubator of extreme, irrational views.
High on their own supply, activists in these organizing circles end up developing a crusader mentality: an extreme self-righteousness based on the conviction that they are doing the secular equivalent of God’s work. It isn’t about ego or elevating oneself. In fact, the activists I knew and I tended to denigrate ourselves more than anything. It wasn’t about us, it was about the desperately needed work we were doing, it was about the people we were trying to help. The danger of the crusader mentality is that it turns the world in a battle between good and evil.
And this "will to purity" doesn't just manifest in protecting sacred beliefs, it manifests in behavior as well. Both evangelical and progressive Christians doggedly pursue a vision of moral purity.
For evangelical Christians moral purity will fixate on hedonism (e.g., sex, drug use).
For progressive Christians moral purity will fixate on complicity in injustice. To be increasingly "pure" in progressive Christian circles is to become less and less complicit in injustice. Thus there is an impulse toward a more and more radical lifestyle where, eventually, you find yourself feeling that "everything is problematic." You can't do anything without contaminating yourself.
To be clear, I'm not judging any of this. I'm simply trying to trace out the contours of the purity culture at work among progressive Christians. Mainly because I think many progressive Christians have become burnt out by this psychology. Progressive Christians have become burnt out by the chronic anger produced by the "good vs. evil" Crusader mentality and burnt out by the chronic exhaustion of living in a world where "everything is problematic."
For most of us, the vision of progressive Christianity--as we took up the banner of social justice--started out so hopeful and joyous.
But for far too many, in the words of Aurora, the purity culture of progressive Christianity caused it all to "metastasize into a nightmare."
For a follow up post about the purity culture of progressive Christianity, responding to the conversation here and elsewhere on social media about this post, see The Purity Culture of Progressive Christianity: Additional Reflections.