Thoughts on Non-Western Liberalism
My friend Tracy Johnson passed along Paul Miller’s 2018 article “Non-‘Western’ Liberalism and the Resilience of the Liberal International Order”. Miller takes Donald Trump’s 2017 speech in Warsaw on the nature of liberalism’s relationship to Western civilization as his jumping off point. Miller argues that liberalism could have developed anywhere in the world, not just the West, and that the nature, origins, and failures of global liberalism and democracy demonstrate that liberalism does not need the civilizational features of the West (i.e., Christendom and its legacy) in order to flourish. It was a good read, and provoked a few thoughts from me. In no particular order,
1. Miller is working in the area of political science, not philosophy. Political science can be a helpful discipline (I did my undergraduate degree in it) to understand the quantifiable effects of policies, but it cannot determine whether policies are good. The good is a philosophical question; science, including political science, can only measure effects. But even the nature of the measuring rod used (e.g. the different ways Freedom House and the Center for Systemic Peace try to measure [quantify] freedom [qualitative]) is philosophically charged. Political science often makes the same mistake of the other sciences in thinking that the manner of measurement and the object being measured are objective and accessible, rather than subjective. This was one of the frequent critiques of Miller’s 2022 The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism. Miller in this article makes the same assumption: that the measure of freedom in a country is the same thing as its degree of liberality…
On Brad Littlejohn’s Clarifications on Christian Nationalism
Brad Littlejohn’s clarifying essay at Ad Fontes on Christian Nationalism is quite helpful. He provides a good overview of the different approaches to nationalism and makes the case for a Christian Commonwealth instead. I suspect that in ongoing discussions related to Christian Nationalism that this essay will be the touchstone for getting people on the same conversational page. The essay is long and covers lot of ground, but I wanted to reflect on only a few aspects of it.
Littlejohn distinguishing between Christian Nationalism on the one hand and Christian Magistracy on the other is good, and provides a solid, conceptual rebuttal to Jonathan Leeman on religious liberty. Leeman’s position can’t seem to answer what moral/religious/objective/natural standard governments should be held to in governing. In other words, what defines the good governments are to uphold and the evil they are to punish if not true good and evil, evident in nature and revealed in scripture?…
Thomas Cole’s ‘The Oxbow’
‘View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow’
Post-Roe Reduction in Abortions
FiveThirtyEight has an article up on the change in abortion rates in the U.S. following the overturn of Roe v. Wade. The most significant information is found in these paragraphs.
That topline number conceals an enormous amount of fluctuation between states. In all states that saw declines in their abortion numbers — which include the 15 states in which abortion was banned or severely limited over the summer — the number of abortions fell by about 22,000. Some of those women appear to have traveled out of state, because in other states, the number of abortions rose by an aggregate of about 12,000.
But nationwide, the movement of abortions from states with bans and restrictions to those with fewer restrictions on access wasn’t enough to make up the shortfall. Between April and August, the number of abortions declined by 6 percent, and it’s likely that the decline in abortions represents thousands of women who sought abortions illegally or didn’t get one at all. If these trends persist, there could be at least 60,000 fewer abortions in the next year as a result of the Dobbs decision (emphasis added).
Banning abortion reduces abortion. In fact, banning abortion is proving to be the single greatest tool for reducing abortion. For years there were evangelicals and conservatives who argued that overturning Roe was not a good use of energy, that there are more effective means of reducing abortion besides banning it. Even after the Dobbs decision I heard pro-lifers talk about how it would be counterproductive and not the best approach.
Dobbs has directly led to a 10% decrease in abortions in the United States, even as abortion is still legal in a majority of states with the majority of the population. That is easily the single greatest drop in abortions in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade. There will be illegal abortions, and people will travel to states where it remains legal to procure them, but the more abortion is banned, the less it will occur. Banning it on the state level should become the top strategic priority of the pro-life movement.
For those who think that 60,000-a-year number represents a repressive injustice, I suggest waiting until 2040 and listening to the interviews with 60,000 18-year olds who would have otherwise been killed.
Thinking of Moving from the PCA to the EPC?
The “Everything-Goes Presbyterian Church.” Plenty of pastors in the EPC have heard our church described that way. The EPC has a well deserved reputation for charity, for not splintering over non-essential issues, for valuing relationships over litigiousness. For that reason the EPC has become a refuge for many. I count myself among them. At the same time, this relaxed and charitable posture has been perceived as lackadaisical, that the EPC is the denomination you join if you want to be presbyterian and evangelical but still do whatever you want.
I expect that in the next few years the EPC will start receiving an increasing number of requests to join us from disaffected PCA congregations. Within the PCA there are a number of debates raging over what dissatisfied congregations may view as secondary issues which demand liberty. The allure of the EPC to these congregations is as an apparent landing place where they can now freely practice what is contested or banned in their current church.
My own Reformed ministry began in a PCA church before I headed to the EPC, and I retain a love for the PCA. The EPC is a more relaxed church than the PCA, but we are not in reality an “everything-goes” church. Below are a few areas that disgruntled PCAers should be aware of the EPC’s actual stands.
1. The EPC is a confessional church. All of our officers, like in the PCA, vow to sincerely adopt the Westminster Confessions and Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine found in the scriptures. The EPC’s confessionalism is well known for presbyterian churches considering a new denominational home. But the implications need to be teased out. Like in the PCA, the Westminster Standards are the subordinate doctrinal standards of the church. “The Essentials of Our Faith” is often used as a shorthand for our essential doctrines, but it is not that in actuality. The Westminster Standards are. Which means the Westminster Standards restrict doctrine and practice in the EPC in the same way they restrict doctrine and practice in the PCA….