November 17, 2005

THE UNHAPPY ENDING:

"A liberal tragedy": By cutting itself off from its Christian roots, liberalism has become shrill and dogmatic (Edward Skidelsky, 1/20/02, Prospect)

Liberalism is facing a crisis. [...]

We proclaim to the world the values of equality, liberty and toleration, but we have no idea on what authority we proclaim them. The older liberalism had no anxieties on this count. It derived its principles either from Christian tradition or else from the supposed attributes of human nature. Both these sources of justification have fallen into disrepute. Human rights are held to be a universal possession, not the patrimony of Christians. Yet these universal human rights are no longer grounded in a universal human nature. The classical conception of man as a rational animal, separated by an unbridgeable gulf from other animals, is condemned as "speciesism." The dominant modern theory of human nature is purely biological. It is concerned with those characteristics that we share with animals. It provides no basis for human rights.

Thus rights are no longer deduced, either theologically or philosophically. They are proclaimed. Fiat has replaced argument. Our faith in our own civilisation is without rational foundation. This accounts for the shrill, dogmatic tone of modern liberalism. [...]

Yet if liberalism is the inheritor of Christianity, why is it so reluctant to acknowledge its debt? Why have the liberal movements of the last 200 years been secular in inspiration? Siedentop regards the separation of liberalism from Christianity as an unfortunate accident. The church-particularly the Catholic church-became identified with "the stratified society based on privilege." It thereby violated its own principle of "equal liberty." Henceforth this principle took a secular form.

Yet the estrangement of liberalism from Christianity was surely more than an accident. It followed an inexorable logic. The universalism of the Christian proclamation had to burst the bounds of Christian doctrine and ritual. Christianity, to be true to itself, had to transcend itself. No one saw this with greater clarity than the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Just as Christianity had transcended the exclusivity of Judaism, opening up salvation to Jew and gentile alike, so it must now, argued Bonhoeffer, transcend its own exclusivity. Bonhoeffer saw that the church had not risen to the challenge of the age. In
its confrontation with totalitarianism, it had sacrificed the universal cause of humanity to the preservation of its privileges. It became nothing more than one corporation among others. Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis. He died, appropriately, not as a Christian martyr but as a political dissident.

Christianity's fate, then, is to abolish itself, to dissolve into liberalism. But is this fate happy or tragic? And can liberalism itself survive, once severed from its Christian roots? Does it have an independent source of life, or is it living off its religious inheritance? Siedentop himself is optimistic. Liberalism, he writes, is a "purged" form of Christianity, preserving the ethical content of Christianity while discarding its mythological form. Christianity is a preliminary, an imperfect first shot at liberal constitutionalism. It was Hegel who first defended Christianity as a prototype of the constitutional state. Writing after the horrors of Jacobinism, his aim was to make liberals conscious of their debt to the past, thereby encouraging a more peaceful transition from tradition to modernity. Siedentop's aim is similar. Like Hegel, he is in no doubt that religion belongs to the infancy of the human race.

But these theories betray a shallow conception of religion. Liberalism is not the essence or fulfilment of Christianity; it is its shadow. It substitutes for the concrete life of faith a set of abstract formulae. It is a sketch, an outline, a precis of religion. If Christianity is poetry, then liberalism is the prose translation. Christianity is first and foremost a narrative. It tells the story of man's fall, his bondage to sin and the law, his redemption from sin and the law and his restoration to grace. This narrative is no mere allegory; it is the primary reality of our lives. Liberalism extracts from this narrative a few catchphrases-"freedom," dignity," "equality"-and sets them up as ultimate principles. These phrases have become a secular litany; they are incanted endlessly at international summits. But detached from the context which once gave them meaning, they appear increasingly arbitrary. [...]

Thus the fate of liberalism is-in the precise sense the word-tragic. A tragic fate is one that proceeds not from external and accidental causes, but according to an inexorable internal logic. This is precisely the situation of liberalism. It must sever itself from its historical roots in Christianity, yet in doing so it severs itself from the source of its own life. Liberalism must follow a course that leads directly to its own atrophy. It must extirpate itself.


This is why the End of History is not a triumphalist doctrine. Most peoples will be perfectly content to die off in the mere shadows, while the poetry will endure among only a few.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 17, 2005 8:49 PM
Comments

The Left, looks back at the three Enlightenments,
French, English and American and decides the French one is the way to go! After all, it's worked so well for them.
oj, you just know I'm now going to plug Himmelfarb's "The Road to Modernity", there, I did it!
BTW, she considers the English the most important due to it's theological components.
Mike

Posted by: Mike Daley at November 17, 2005 9:18 PM

Pretty narrowminded essay, even for this site.

Posted by: Greg at November 17, 2005 9:41 PM

Stasis is a condition to be pursued, not attained. We humans are not, by nature, ewoks.

Of course, with the proper "therapies" ...

Posted by: ghostcat at November 17, 2005 10:15 PM

Ewoks, Eloi ... what's the difference?

Posted by: ghostcat at November 17, 2005 10:25 PM

I'd rather be an ewok than an eloi. You can at least make money off the merchandising rights if you're an ewok.

Posted by: Mike Morley at November 17, 2005 11:01 PM

Bonhoeffer... died, appropriately, not as a Christian martyr but as a political dissident.

This statement belies a deep misunderstanding of Christianity--one that our president, thankfully, doesn't suffer from, nor Tony Blair.

Posted by: Timothy at November 18, 2005 1:55 AM

One thing is for sure: Orrin's the only blogger who has reviewed more books than he's read...:)

Posted by: Brit at November 18, 2005 5:24 AM

Does anyone else find it ironic that Liberals, who often disdain and distance themselves from Christianity, have a social program more in line with the Sermon on the Mount than the Conservatives who claim to be God's standard bearers while actually pursuing militaristic and profit goals that Jesus would condemn?

Posted by: Anon at November 18, 2005 6:55 AM

Anon:

Christ came with a sword and conservatives have a viable social program that respects the individual, as Christ commanded.

What's strange is that the Left insists Christ would have been indifferent to genocide.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2005 7:17 AM

greg:

Precisely. Europe is open-minded.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2005 8:17 AM

The sword was metaphorical OJ, a parable of how His teachings would divide even families.

Matthew
10-34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
10-35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
10-36 and a man's foes will be those of his own household.

It has nothing to do with invading Iraq.

As for His social program:

Matthew
19-20 The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?"
19-21 Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
19-22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
19-23 And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

And,

Matthew
25-34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
25-35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
25-36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'
25-37 Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
25-38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
25-39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'
25-40 And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me

The Liberal mistake is believing they can force people to be good through government programs. True charity has to be voluntary and from the heart. Be that as it may, the pursuit of material wealth only detracts from our real purpose:

Matthew
6-19 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal,
6-20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.
6-21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

So no, Jesus' Kingdom would not tolerate "dog eat dog" capitalism. Jesus does not believe that "greed is good".

What's strange is that the Left insists Christ would have been indifferent to genocide.

When did the Left (who tend not to believe in Christ in the first place) ever say that?


Posted by: Anon at November 18, 2005 8:42 AM

Anon:

Of course, that's why we don't have dog eat dog capitalism and never have.

Metaphors mean things. God is hardly surprised that fighting evil is bloody business.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2005 8:49 AM

"When did the Left (who tend not to believe in Christ in the first place) ever say that?"

Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Saddam, Ortega, Castro...
A more easy question to answer would be, "When *hasn't* the left been indifferent to genocide?"

Posted by: Bryan at November 18, 2005 9:08 AM

The entire mainline community opposed the regime change in Iraq.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2005 9:12 AM

Prior to the New Deal OJ, dog eat dog capitalism was exactly what we had.

As for "fighting evil",

Matthew
5-38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
5-39 But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;

That's not even a metaphor, that's a commandment. What kind of Christian did you say you were? And further:

Matthew
5-43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
5-44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

And you didn't answer my question, so let me repeat it:

What's strange is that the Left insists Christ would have been indifferent to genocide.
When did the Left (who tend not to believe in Christ in the first place) ever say that?


Posted by: Anon at November 18, 2005 9:16 AM

Bryan, go back a reread OJ's statement and my question:

What's strange is that the Left insists Christ would have been indifferent to genocide.
When did the Left (who tend not to believe in Christ in the first place) ever say that?

The question isn't whether the Left was indifferent to Genocide. The question was when did the Left state that Christ was indifferent to genocide? The Left is for the most part opposed to Christ or indifferent to Christ. I've never heard of them claiming justification from Jesus for genocide from. So I am asking OJ for an example.

Posted by: Anon at November 18, 2005 9:22 AM

Anon:

No, we didn't. We had extended familiesm churches, and a thoroough system of charitable institutions, all more consistent with Christianity than statism.

But it's pointless arguing theology with someone who pretends to Christianity while disbelieving Creation, Morality, and Charity.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2005 9:23 AM

That would come as a surprise to my grandfather who got beat up by Henry Ford's goons during the battle to unionize autoworkers at the Rouge River Plant. It would surprise the Robber Barons themselves who often used "social Darwinism" as a justification.

But it's pointless arguing theology with someone who pretends to Christianity while disbelieving Creation, Morality, and Charity.

When have I disbelieved Creation? Have I not made it clear that I side with the Vatican on the issue of evolution?

When have I disbelieved in Morality? Not wanting to murder Gays (or people who pick up sticks on Saturday, or children who argue with their parents) is not the same thing.

When have I disbeleived in Charity? Did I not just say that true charity must come from the heart, not from government programs? Did I not site the parable of the goats and the sheep? According to that parable only those who are charitable will be saved.

So what kind of Christian did you say you were?

And please answer my question concerning your statement:

What's strange is that the Left insists Christ would have been indifferent to genocide.
When did the Left (who tend not to believe in Christ in the first place) ever say that?

Posted by: Anon at November 18, 2005 9:38 AM

Anon:

When did the left ever say that? Well, millions of them smiled at the "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" crack.

Of course they don't call it genocide. They just define whichever race, class, ethnic group as an obstcale to heaven on earth and act accordingly. Our old pal Harry once talked about "Kulaks who wouldn't share their food."

Or, in more modern times, they find an abstract principle that they use to argue why no one should interefere with mass murder. If they had had their way, Hussein would still be shredding people in the name of international law and the supremacy of the UN.

So, if the left argues that their programs and principles are more consistent with Christ's teachings, they must be assuming He would approve.

Posted by: Peter B at November 18, 2005 10:21 AM

the left not only condones mass murder, it's what get's them out of bed in the morning. the left is always *talking* about doing good things, but they don't actually *practice* that. and in the process they leech off the the efforts of those they calim to "defend".

Posted by: psycho duffy at November 18, 2005 10:32 AM

Anon's argument is as good as any other that poses the 'WWJD' question.

But the debate about whether the pro or anti war camps are more in line with What Jesus Would Do is a complete dud, since you can use selected excerpts from the Bible to justify absolutely anything.

Every side in every conflict in history has claimed that God is on its side. It's part of the game, and since everyone does it, it's meaningless.

The only relevant question is: 'what is the right thing to do?' Or more commonly: 'what is the least wrong thing to do?' In this case, the invasion was the least wrong thing to do.

Posted by: Brit at November 18, 2005 10:41 AM

So, if the left argues that their programs and principles are more consistent with Christ's teachings, they must be assuming He would approve.

Apparently Peter there is an epidemic of reading comprehension problems on this thread. That wasn't what OJ said. That wasn't what I asked him. What he stated was:

What's strange is that the Left insists Christ would have been indifferent to genocide.

What I asked was:

When did the Left (who tend not to believe in Christ in the first place) ever say that?

OJ made a claim that the Left used Jesus as justification for genocide. I asked for an example quote validating this claim. I'm still waiting.

The irony being of course that those who have actually killed (or want to kill) in Jesus name throughout history up to the present day have all been members of the religious Right.


Posted by: Anon at November 18, 2005 10:47 AM

Bryan:

Anon is apparenbtly disavowing himself "pursuing militaristic goals that Jesus would condemn?" Even he recognizes that Christ would remove Saddam.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2005 11:23 AM

Brit:

Your question has no meaning.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2005 11:24 AM

Anon:

Of course it's conservatives who are willing to enforce morality, you disavow it entirely, so how could you stomach enforcing it?

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2005 11:26 AM

No. Anon is completely wrong about Christianity and socialism and pacifism, but that's all right: he's forgiven.

All that "turn the other cheek" and "love your enemy" teaching has to do with the individual, not the state. Who was it that Our Lord found to have the greatest faith he had encountered? Why, the Roman Centurian, of course. Was the man a pacifist? Do you think so?

What had been St. John the Baptist's counsel to soldiers? Do your job, don't shake people down, and obey your officers.

Socialism is not about selling all that you have and giving it to the poor, it is about the state taking all that you have, by force, keeping much of it for itself, and giving some of it away at its discretion, not yours and not God's.

What did Paul teach about social justice? Much, all in the context of the voluntary community of faith, and he also taught, "Who does not work, does not eat." 2 Thess 3:11.

The data is plain that unbelievers are stingy when it comes to those in need,and why not, for their program is to take charity out of the realms of individual choice. By making it a function of the nameless and faceless, they may go through life, as selfish as they might be, smugly correct because their overpriced car has a Kerry sticker on it.

To return to that article, the reason left-Liberalism fails as a substitute for Christianity is that man in the liberal state only pretends to care for the poor, giving lip service to Christian values, pretending that he is really not the murdering monster that he is without Divine guidance. Pretend that, you liberals, but, as Luther wrote, we have the proof in our wounds.

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 18, 2005 11:32 AM

Apparently Jesus could not stomach the enforcing of morality either when it came to stoning the adulteress, even though He knew she was guilty since she was caught in the act.

I'm in good company.

P.S. I'm still waiting for an example quote to validate your claim that the Left insists that Christ would have been indifferent to genocide.

Posted by: Anon at November 18, 2005 11:34 AM

What did Jesus do with her?

pursuing militaristic...goals that Jesus would condemn?

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2005 11:43 AM

Lou,

I never said Jesus was a pacifist or that he condemned those in the military. What I said was OJ was wrongly spinning His comment about bringing a sword to the world.

If you back a reread my posts you may notice that we are in agreement about what constitutes true charity, and the Liberal mistake of trying to force it with government programs.

As for differentiating between the individual and the state, as far as Jesus was concerned the state was in irrelevancy. Hence his dismissive comment to "render unto Caesar". What mattered to Him was not an overthrow of the exisitng order but a revolution in the hearts of men. If that ever happened, the evils perpetrated by states and kings would end by themselves.

This makes Jesus the only true revolutionary in history.

But the reality remains that He would oppose and condemn those who would twist his gospel of love and forgiveness and use His teachings as an excuse to kill. At the final judgement He will tell such people, "I never knew you". To quote CS Lewis, "Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst."

Posted by: Anon at November 18, 2005 11:46 AM

Let me follow up with another appropriate CS Lewis quote:

I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse... Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil.

Posted by: Anon at November 18, 2005 11:48 AM

Lou:

Yes, I'm sure that bit about turning the other cheek not applying to states (or state leaders?) was in the footnotes.

Of course Anon is wrong about what the Bible says. And of course Anon is also right about what the Bible says.

Whatever answer you want, the Bible will provide it. And so it provides no answer, except what you decide for yourself, and in that decision lies your moral responsibility.

Posted by: Brit at November 18, 2005 11:49 AM

Anon:

You can't both insist that the lack of a Welfare State demonstrated that Christianity was dead and that the Welfare State is anti-Christian.

Nor insist that God hated the people of Soddom or those who cast the golden calf or the Egyptians, etc. God's love is sterner stuff than you wish.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2005 11:53 AM

Brit:

No, it's quite clear, we just don't much like what it tells us.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2005 11:58 AM

Anon:

Lewis is, of course, correct: Christianity is even used as cover for disavowing morality, collaborating with genocide, statism, and the like.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2005 11:59 AM

What did Jesus do with her?

John

8-10 Jesus looked up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
8-11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again."

Posted by: Anon at November 18, 2005 12:01 PM

Yes, so God personally orders her not to sin again in exchange for her life. That's a deal He can make, not we.

Of course, that's what your entire shtick boils down to, is the wish to substitute your own judgemen t for God's.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2005 12:07 PM
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