Why liberal society makes Christianity almost impossible
about following Christ, following the Father through communion with the Son. “Abide in me, and I in you.” (John 15:4.) “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21.)
This, Jesus tells us, is the form of the being of a Christian, to the extent that one is actually striving to be a Christian. But what is the content of being a Christian, meaning, what is the moral content of the actions in which the Christian engages in the act of following Christ? In liberal society, which means a society in which the only legitimate values are liberal values, the only available and acceptable moral content for people’s actions is liberalism, which comes down to appropriating other people’s wealth in order to help the poor, eliminating traditional moral judgment in order to liberate human desire, empowering aliens to enter and transform one’s society in their image, and so on; in short, facilitating the ruin of one’s society for the sake of the incompetent, the immoral, and the Other.
The rule of liberalism thus eliminates from people’s minds and moral imaginations the possibility of any way of action other than that of liberalism, and so makes Christianity impossible, except as an adjunct to liberalism.
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Charles T. writes:
I agree with just about everything you wrote on this subject. I would like to add that liberalism will use the Christian church for its own purposes to promote liberalism. Unfortunately, much of what liberalism preaches and teaches “sounds” like Christian practice intially. However, when one discovers how the liberals intend to apply their teaching, one must question if it is really compatible with classical Christianity. Unfortunately, many Christian pastors are embracing liberal principles because it looks and sounds so, well, Christian. The embrace of liberalism by Christian churches eventually brings the church to a point where it is no longer about redemption, but is all about politics and government programs. Once this happens the message of redemption is eventually and gradually extinguished. The church that embraces liberalism will eventually cease to be Christian and becomes the adjunct organization you mentioned.
Liberalism posing as Christianity is one of the greatest deceits of our modern age.
John D. writes:
If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend the book entitled Christianity and Liberalism, 1923 by John Gresham Machen who founded the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He makes the proper distinctions between and thus separates the two “religions,” showing how they are not only incompatible with one another, but tend to work against each other.
Laura writes (not Laura W.):
Please discuss the conflict between liberalism and Christianity in more detail. I know at least in part or superficially the case for liberal intentions that can be made from Christianity. But I cannot imagine that Christ intended for us to be suicidal as a culture or “door mats” as individuals. One theme under discussion among contemporary authors is the “feminization” of the church (with apologies to all the ladies who do so much for the church) and why it no longer appeals to men as much. I am deeply concerned about our culture and want to do what I can to defend it, but I do not want to be “un-Christian” about it. How can one answer those who would say that Jesus’ message was all about the poor and the downtrodden? One almost feels like if you work hard, have a job, and keep out of trouble, you are somehow contemptible in their eyes. I apologize if this is rambling, I appreciate the insight of you and your commenters and would appreciate any thought you may have on this subject.
I think it’s a fundamental loss of correct understanding. Not that I have “the” correct understanding, but I think I can tell the difference between an understanding that comes from Scripture and one that horribly distorts it, as liberal Christianity surely does. The center of the Gospels is the right relationship with God. Everything else that is taught in the Gospels, including the teachings about non-selfishness and givingness to others, takes place within that relationship.
Take as an example the teaching, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” which Jesus quotes from the Torah. To the modern mind, that sounds like a recipe for liberal-style, self-abnegating love for the neighbor (and liberals such as John Paul II translate “neighbor” as everyone in the world), which feeds into the liberal idea that the only good is the sacrifice of our society for the sake of the alien and the undeserving.
But since this love of neighbor, according to Jesus, should be similar to love of oneself, the question is, what does it mean to love oneself? Does it mean to love oneself unconditionally? Does it mean to love oneself as the highest thing, and therefore we should love others as the highest thing? That is exactly the way liberals would understand it. But it is not the Christian understanding. Look at the preceding sentence, which Jesus quotes from a different passage in the Torah and joins with the sentence I’ve already quoted: “You shall love God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your strength. And your neighbor as yourself.” By putting together these two different passages from the Torah the way he does, Jesus shows that the love of God is primary to the love of self. It is in the light of loving and following God that we discover our true self, and it is our love for this true self—the self that is following God—of which Jesus speaks, not our love for our ordinary, small, self-centered self.
The same is true of our love of others, which Jesus says should be modeled on our love of self. Love of the neighbor is not an absolute imperative, something pursued for its own sake and without limit. Rather, it comes out of love of God, it is secondary to and derivative of the love of God, and it is also directed and controlled by the love of God, just as our own self (to the extent that we are really trying to be Christians) is directed and controlled by the love of God.
What I’ve just said is in accord with Irving Babbitt’s seminal book Democracy and Leadership. Babbitt speaks of two kinds of self. There is the liberal or Romantic self, which is led by expansive appetite—and further, as Babbitt makes clear in a brilliant insight, liberal compassion is itself an expansive appetite, just as desire for fame, wealth, power and sex are expansive appetites. And there is the Aristotolian or Christian self, which is controlled and checked by a higher truth.
I discussed the difference between the liberal view and the Christian view of self and other last November, in an entry called “How the cultural Other became God”:
The belief in equality as the highest truth means there is nothing above us. The highest thing is the human self, with all human selves being equal. And since man still needs the God he has displaced, the tendency is to make the human self into God. Thus the “religion of man.” But our own self is not “transcendent” to us, and cannot fully serve the purpose of being our substitute God. What therefore is “transcendent” to us is the human self of other human selves—the more “other” they are (and thus the more alien or even threatening), the more transcendent they become. And so we arrive, by a somewhat different route, at the moral inversion of reality described by my First Law of Majority-Minority Relations in Liberal Society, where the worse something is, the more we praise it.
Another way of explaining the transformation of the cultural Other into God is as follows. “Love your neighbor as yourself” in its original context assumes the existence of God and one’s relationship with God. You see yourself in the light of existence under God, and so you see other people in the same light. One’s own self has its full value because of God, and other people are given the same value. Human brotherhood is a function of—and is also guided and constrained by—God’s fatherhood.
But what happens if we take God out of the picture but we still say, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? In that case, self-love is not guided or constrained by any higher truth. We love ourselves completely, without truth. This is the condition of man in modern liberal society. But it doesn’t stop with the unlimited self-love of modern man, because we’re supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves. Therefore, since we love ourselves with a love that is not limited or guided by truth, we owe the same unlimited love to our neighbor, who is now defined as every human in the world, especially those from strange cultures. Thus the rejection of the transcendent God leads to suicidal liberalism.
John D. writes:
Your reply to Laura regarding the conflict between liberalism and Christianity was excellent. The Two Greatest Commandments must indeed be taken as a set, the first being primary and necessary, so that the second may be properly executed as God intended it to be.
Thank you. I should have supplied the full context, which would have strengthened my point. There are two versions of the story, the first is at Matthew 22:35-40:
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
The second version is at Mark 12:28-34, which, unusually, is more dramatic and fuller than the Matthew version in some ways. For one thing, it shows how the “first and greatest commandment” comes from the Shema, “Hear, O Israel,” the main Jewish prayer:
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
Now to make a couple of obvious or not-so obvious points. Jesus doesn’t say, “You shall slobber over your neighbor as over yourself.” Because a person who is loving and obeying God does not slobber over himself. Jesus doesn’t say, “You shall sacrifice your country and the well being of your countryment for your neighbor, as you would for yourself.” Because a person who follows God would not do that for himself. And Jesus certainly doesn’t say, “You shall sacrifice your country and the well-being of your countrymen for the sake of alien peoples who do not care for your country and will take it over and change it into something unrecognizably different and destroy it if given a chance.” Yet this is what the liberals say that Jesus meant.
And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.
Of course Jesus’ commands have the potential of being misunderstood as a call for extragravant, suicidal altruism. This has always been a problem in Christianity, just as the potential for gnosticism has always been a problem in Christianity. But these are misunderstandings that need to be corrected, and the Christian tradition has always corrected them when they have appeared.
But modern liberalism appropriates Christianity and turns it into a slobbering image of itself, just as it appropriates classical liberalism and turns it into a slobbering image of itself. Consider the hideous distortion that George W. Bush has wreaked on the classical liberalism of the Declaration of Independence when he says that all people “deserve” democracy! Meaning that someone else, namely the U.S., has the moral obligation to give them democracy. Thus the noble idea of natural inherent rights and government by consent is perverted into a global welfare state of democracy, with democracy provided by the U.S. to foreign peoples whether they are capable and desirous of exercising their natural rights or not. And the neoconservatives, to their everlasting discredit, have gone along with Bush’s leftist perversion of the “Idea” that they say is the very definition of America.
Thanks for your response to Laura in this thread. One of the best things you’ve written, I think. It does a great job of explaining one of the hardest most confusing statements Jesus made, and thus of preaching the practical faith. It should be in the list of Featured Articles on the main page, with the title changed to, “The Center of the Gospels.”
I offer some thoughts on the same subject that I posted to an online discussion forum dominated by liberals. It is important to note that any credit they earn should redound to Sage McLaughlin—and to you, of course.
I would like to enter a word of support for discrimination. You can’t run your life without it. The doctrine that we should not ever discriminate among people would entail that it is offensive and biased for a woman to withhold her sexual favors from anyone at all, or to favor her own children over those of other women. Likewise, it would be offensive and biased for her to prevent anyone who wants to from staying in her house and eating her food. These are absurd examples, to be sure, but they serve to illustrate the general principle that it is not possible to organize social activity except by discriminating among people.
If it is wicked to treat some people as citizens because they were born here, and others as aliens because they were not, then in order to avoid that wickedness a nation would have to treat everyone in the world as its citizens, entitled to vote in its elections, reap all its civil benefits, etc. But then “citizen” and “nation” would become empty terms, and that society would vanish along with the lines and definitions and distinctions that had differentiated it from its neighbours. Thus suspicion and distrust of abnormal people, inclining us all to discriminate against them and favor those we recognize as fellows, is the only way societies survive.
To have a nation, a society, a firm, a church, any organization at all, you have to draw lines. Furthermore, you have to empower people differently, or dignify them differently. For example, if there is to be any leadership whatsoever, leaders must be somehow disproportionately empowered. Ditto for citizenship, or membership in a group or club: one must pay one’s dues, the membership cannot be free or it is void. In the world as it is actually constituted, nothing is free (with the exception of God’s love for creation, which, being infinite, can be provided to creatures without any cost to God). Ditto also for mate selection, which is an act of discrimination for one person, and against all others.
One of the inescapable elements of discrimination is a moral or aesthetic judgement that some people or things are better than others, in at least some important respect. It would be perverse to dignify someone as a leader if you thought he was not likely to do better at it than the average bear. It would be stupid to turn for counsel to the village idiot. The same holds on the playground when boys are picking sides, and in triage on the battlefield. Discrimination can really hurt. But you can’t run a society without it. And it does work in practice, too, because some people really are better than others, at job x, or in terms of characteristic y.
So it is a fantasy to think that we can make life equally nice for everyone. The world doesn’t work that way.
Note that none of this is to say that in deciding someone is not right for citizenship, or for cohabitation, or for our soccer team, we are deciding also that they are ipso facto actively bad, and that we are justified in persecuting them. That inference is not justified; that only one runner wins the race does not entail that his competitors should henceforth be kept off the track. To decide that a person or class of people are actively bad, or dangerous, requires a further determination. But we can’t shrink from making that determination, either, if we are to survive. For some people truly are bad or dangerous, and if we are to survive we must harass and persecute them: the serial killer, the enemy in wartime, and so forth.
Many members of this community are either Christians, or used to be, or are sort of Christian, or something; at any rate, they hold in high esteem Jesus’ injunction that we should love our neighbour as ourselves. This saying at the core of the faith, and thus at the core of our civilization, had always been a stumbling block for me, because it seemed as though it contravened the whole order of the universe, which operates on gradations in value and worthiness, on differences; and that it contradicted also the entirety of Biblical religion, in which God is (among other things) a Judge discriminating the relative merit of everything that happens, right up to the differences among the choirs of angels.
The best interpretation I could come up with was that Jesus’ first great commandment that we should love God with all our being meant that I should have no love left over for myself. This would not be the death of me, because in loving God I should also love his will for me, which provides for my best good. That is, I should be more inclined to do His will, and so to prosper. Loving God instead of myself would be good for me. How then should I love my neighbour? Just as I should love myself: not at all. If I love God with my whole being, then I will do what is best for me, and I will also do what is best for my neighbour, because God wills what is best for both myself and my neighbour.
I recently read a comment by a fellow named Sage McLaughlin that, “When we are told to love our enemies as ourselves, this does not mean we are to treat them the same way we treat ourselves—Christ did not say, “Don’t have enemies.” He takes for granted that we shall have foes, but demands that we love them as human beings and that we hate the disfiguring effects of sin on their immortal souls, just as we hate them in ourselves. We must do this, and we must forgive all those who ask our forgiveness—but we do not have to outdo God, who abandons to eternal damnation all those who turn from Him and walk in darkness.” I.e., we are to love the good and hate the bad in other people just as we love the good and hate the bad in ourselves. In order to do that—in order to move closer to goodness and further from wickedness in ourselves, and in our society, and in the creation at large—we must discriminate between good and bad, and choose goodness. That we forgive the wickedness of our enemies does not automatically make them friends; and if they cannot let go of their deadly hatred of us, then in order to control the risk to us of their hatred, we must perforce destroy them with it. In that case, we cannot survive to forgive them except by defending ourselves, and working their destruction, however that may grieve us.
Tim W. writes (June 25):
Your description of the biblical concept of loving thy neighbor as thyself is magnificent! The biblical passage I’m often confronted with by liberals in debate is in the book of John, chapter 8. The woman caught in adultery is about to be stoned. Jesus, knowing the hypocrisy of the men, demands that “he who is without sin cast the first stone.” This shames them into dropping the stones. Liberals invariably cite this as meaning that Christ believed in the liberal variety of “tolerance.” That he supported liberal sexual attitudes and thought people who want to engage in wanton sex have a “right” to do so. But they always leave out that Christ then told the adulteress to “go, and sin no more.” That changes the entire context of what liberals think happened. Christ was making a point about hypocrisy and the need to be forgiving when appropriate, but that’s a far cry from insisting that the adultery laws (or sodomy laws or abortion laws or….) be repealed because people have a “right” to behave that way.
Janet R. (an Englishwoman long resident in Brazil) writes:
I can only distinguish the differences between Christianity and liberalism (and other religions) in concrete terms. For example, the Catholic Church condemns homosexuality but I apparently 90 percent of the Aids hospital are run and staffed by Catholic nuns and priests. I wish the Gay Pride groups would remember this when they demonstrate against the Pope.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 22, 2008 01:24 PM | Send
Some time ago now, I read that in Thailand if you contract Aids the majority of Buddhist families will throw you out onto the streets and refuse to have anything to do with you; and that the only Aids hospital in Thailand is run by a French Catholic priest and not Buddhist monks.
Christianity condemns adultery but we do not stone adulterers (which Muslims do). We recognise differences between men and women but do not preferentially abort female fetuses(which Hindus do). We can deport illegal aliens whilst maintaining their physical integrity but we would not “necklace” them (as South Africans do.)
Here in the West as a result of “Political Correctness” people do not realise how awful pre-Christian societies were and non-Christian societies are. Here in Brazil, some Indian tribes commit infanticide by burying their children alive. Left-wing groups think infanticide is “cultural practice” and radically oppose any attempts to convert these people to Christianity.