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195_Christian_and_Islamic_Modernism

195_Christian_and_Islamic_Modernism -...

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MODERNISM “Modernism [Christian and Islamic],” Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: Macmillan) Vol.10, pp.7-17. Christian Modernism The related terms liberalism and modernism, when occurring in a religious or theological context, are usually no less imprecise than when used with other references. As T. S. Eliot put it: "Liberalism is something which tends to release energy rather than accumulate it, to relax, rather than to fortify. It is a movement not so much defined by its end, as by its starting-point; away from, rather than towards, something definite." Accordingly the content of a set of doctrines or principles described as liberal depends upon that of the "orthodoxy" from which such liberalism diverges, or which it relaxes or qualifies. Much the same applies to modernism, which refers not simply to what exists today but to something deemed to be distinctive of today or of the more recent past, and so to be commended as such, in contrast to what represents a settled tradition or a historic inheritance. Defining both terms therefore presents difficulties, and an understanding of what either signifies is best reached by observing how in fact the word has been used, and in particular by recording agreement as to what it at least denotes. The word liberalism was employed early in the nineteenth century to designate "the holding of liberal opinions in politics or theology." Theologically the word did not at first have a favorable connotation. Thus Edward Irving stated in 1826 that whereas "religion is the very name of obligation . . . liberalism is the very name of want of obligation." John Henry Newman went further and spoke in 1841 of "the most serious thinkers among us" as regarding "the spirit of liberalism as characteristic of the destined Antichrist." Liberalism itself he stigmatized in 1864 as "false liberty of thought, or the exercize of thought upon matters in which, from the constitution of the human mind, thought cannot be brought to any successful issue, and therefore is out of place." More succinctly, Newman condemned it as "the anti-dogmatic principle." Gradually, however, this view point changed with the broader adoption by theologians of opinions more or less critical of received dogma or traditional interpretations of scripture. Employment of the word liberalist came instead to be a mark of approval, in opposition to attitudes referred to pejoratively as traditionalist, dogmatist, or even obscurantist. Moreover, liberalism was taken to signify a readiness not only to modify or actually negate certain doctrines or beliefs usually associated with received religious teaching but also to propagate views of a more positive nature, such as the necessity for freedom of inquiry and research and the conviction that new knowledge, when soundly based, will not prove subversive of fundamental religious truth but rather be a light by which to clarify and enhance such truth. Hence to be identified as "liberal" was regarded as a compliment by an increasing number of Protestant thinkers and scholars in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
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