Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Liberal and the Church

I should say at the start that I am no Anglican but as a Christian my heart goes to those who struggle with the issues currently besetting that venerable communion, the Anglican Church. A great deal is being said and written about the challenges facing the Church of England and the world Anglican community over issues of authority, specifically the question of women and priesthood, and morality, specifically what should be the church’s stance toward homosexuality. And the liberal-minded man or woman in amazement asks why on earth anyone would be so troubled and go to such lengths for something that is so anachronistic. Surely in this day and age such questions have been answered by enlightened, liberal-minded and progressive people like myself and needn’t bother us now? My answer is, “You wouldn’t understand”.

You wouldn’t understand because you are the purposeless product of a valueless and ideologically bankrupt age. You are a liberal and, like all liberals, nothing has any value or meaning to you other than the expedient, the comfortable and the present. You have no anchor in the past, on which you look down with a mixture of pity and contempt for its ignorance and superstition, much as some look down on ‘primitive’ societies, or look down upon the follies of youth. You have no fear for the future, living as you do only for now because it is all you believe in, and no reference point outside yourself and your own opinions and prejudices to guide you because you think we have no one to help us but ourselves. Because of this, while you imagine yourself the most enlightened and tolerant of us all, you fail completely to understand and will not tolerate any view of the world but your own.

Indeed, I confess that I have seldom come across anyone as thoroughly intolerant and illiberal as a liberal, especially when it comes to traditional matters of faith. In this respect liberalism is the new fascism since it will not tolerate anything not in its own image and seeks at every turn to censure, criminalise and legislate against any thought or practice that does not progress its own cause or that questions its agenda. It is a fact that, while we in the UK today seem not to know what to do about a knife crime epidemic, if any voice is raised that speaks against the liberal agenda everyone seems to know exactly what they want to do and liberals are determined to silence those voices of dissent and label them as some sort of doctrinaire bigotry or ‘phobia’: homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, chauvinism etc.

It Matters

Contrary to the thinking of the impatient and ill-tempered liberal, issues of faith, both doctrine and practice, are very important and those of morality and authority especially so. They are important to some 76 million Anglicans around the world and to altogether some 2.2 billion Christians, the largest religion in the world, as well as to 1.6 billion Muslims, 14 million Jews and so many others. These things shape people’s thinking, and therefore their lives, command their devotion and help them make sense of the world just as the liberal’s thinking is shaped by his liberal ideology. The liberal, contrary to his fondest convictions, is not ‘above’ or progressively advanced beyond all this because of his philosophy but integral to it as he brings his ideas to the table like everyone else.

Because faith matters people disagree, debate and take opposing positions. Christians, Muslims and Jews disagree on the person and identity of Jesus, the canon of Scripture etc; Christians disagree among themselves over authority, organisation, doctrine and practice. Christians disagree with those of other faiths, as others disagree with Christians, over things they regard non-negotiable and fundamental to the faith (the origin of the term fundamentalist. Not some irrational nutcase with a Bible and an axe but a person who thinks deeply about what they believe and refuses to compromise on those things of which they are convinced). In anyone else this robust defence of one’s philosophy would be seen as virtuous but in the Christian in today’s world it is seen as stubborn and perverse. Of course, conversely, if disagreement was absent from the Christian fold Christians would, no doubt, be branded as brainwashed and incapable of independent thought.

The liberal looks on all these people, each arguing that their view of the world, their truth, is the right one, with pity, insisting that they are all hopelessly hanging onto the past, refusing to grow beyond such archaic superstition, that the liberal view is self-evidently the way to look at the world. The irony in this seems to go unnoticed in the liberal camp, which insists that, while everyone else’s ‘insisting’ is unreasonable in its partiality, nevertheless the liberal ‘insistence’ on being the only voice of reason and sanity is unqualified and absolute. The question is, of course, which particular liberalism are you arguing for? You see, there are Christian liberals (I should point out that the first humanists were Christians like Erasmus of Rotterdam), secular liberals (of various flavours), Jewish liberals, Muslim liberals and so on; Irony upon irony. The truth is that there is finally no neutral ground bathed in crystal clear insight and, even while the liberal insists that he is standing on it to look down on the rest of us, it disappears from under his feet and he finds himself, inevitably and contrary to his own creed, taking sides and joining in the cacophony of voices, each raised to argue their view of the world. Delicious irony!

This Day and Age

The liberal thinker of almost any stamp will argue that the church should move with the times. “How”, they will argue, “can you ban women from the priesthood, consider homosexuality a sin, etc. in these enlightened times? Isn’t it self-evident that you must stop suppressing women and recognise that homosexuality is simply a natural sexual orientation?”

Whatever your thoughts on these issues there is one fundamental principle that guides the thinking of the Bible-believing Christian that you must understand. The Bible is the basic text of the Christian faith and in it we find Christianity’s guiding principles. While it would be wrong to deny that the church has, over two millennia, been influenced (often to its detriment) by the age in which it finds itself, nevertheless the idea that doctrine and practice should be deliberately shaped by any age is anathema to Christianity. Indeed it is one of the guiding principles of all the major religions, i.e. you practice your faith so as to better deal with the world by transcending it. The liberal, on the other hand, would have us all deal with the world by incorporating the world into our faith and lives.

However, Christianity is about obeying God as we find his commands in the Bible and not accommodating the mores and customs of the world. This is so self-evidently the case that it is almost embarrassing to have to point it out since even those who don’t believe in God should at least know and understand at least this much. This is what it means to live your faith and it is not always convenient and can sometimes be dangerous because it sets you against a world that chooses to go its own way and suit itself. “This day and age” is neither here nor there to the Bible-believing Christian who seeks to know the appropriate attitude and direction of his or her life.

That having been said, it is also true that the humble Christian believer should hold his truths and certainties in some true humility, always prepared to listen to other understandings and prepared to review what he believes. Unlike the liberal, however, he does not jump on any passing bandwagon or throw in his lot with whatever group is popular at the time but tests and judges according to Scripture, which is seen as “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is not the opinion columns of the popular press that inform the Christian in his thinking but the living word of God.

Let’s Not argue – No, Let’s

The liberal world cannot understand how people who are “supposed to love one another” can argue so. Becoming a Christian, however, does not make you perfect and all your deliberations infallible (although it must be said that some seem to give that impression). Neither is being a Christian a sort of “from now on” experience, i.e. “from now on its always going to be like this and this is always going to be right”. In fact, it is my experience that it is the liberal who can’t or won’t be told, in his self-satisfied confidence, ‘knowing’ as no other knows and deigning only occasionally to explain to the rest of us ‘dullards’ what to him is self-evident. Thinking Christians are generally more humble about what they ‘know’, preferring pilgrimage over pedantry.

On the positive side, Christians grow in their faith and in their understanding. On the negative, Christians make mistakes, get things wrong, misunderstand and learn, like everyone else, from their mistakes. Being people with convictions who, nevertheless, are not infallibly right in faith and understanding makes them resolved, constant but fallible, and that means disagreements, both with the world and among themselves. This is not alien to human experience, of course, but for some strange reason unbelievers don’t expect it from Christians.

The issues are important then, they are addressed by Christians who hold differing views and who, largely, refuse to be simply fashionable. Contrary to popular perception, the issues are considered intelligently and conservative Christian arguments carry greater intellectual weight than liberals like to think and the Bible and the Christian faith are less parochial and more intellectually sophisticated than imagined. Indeed, the liberal arguments, while fashionable and popular, carry rather less weight than might be wished because they are made in a rather simplistic a priori fashion (“How can anyone in this day and age..?”)

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