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…
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?…
Spiritual depression is a melancholy disquiet of the soul, alternating between angst and stupor, that affects the souls of people and nations. A cause that Lloyd-Jones catalogs here is the utilitarian approach to the Christian faith, of valuing Christ’s kingdom as a means to an end. Now, of course no American church or Christian would ever say such a thing. Instead they will talk about the relevance and application of the gospel to their lives: what good is God to me and my interests? This is the way of spiritual depression.
The American church at this moment is in something of a spiritual malaise. This is nothing new; Lloyd-Jones preaching in 1960s London was no stranger to those whose interest in Christianity was focused on its worldview and its applications. There have always been those who view the faith pragmatically and have pressured their leaders and flocks to emphasize the usefulness of the religion. Yet, there is a particularly sharp uptick in the American church of those who see the church’s role as speaking prophetically (that is, mimicking the talking points of political parties with the same level of decorum) to faddish issues and the pressing concerns of that particular congregation’s constituency.
Our debates, discussions, splits and schisms, our tribal identities are being driven by differences over the utility of the gospel.
Click through to read the rest of article.
Whatever you think of National Conservatism, Timon Cline’s writeup on the Christian nature of the United States is well worth the read. It begins with a critique of Mark Tooley’s approach to public Christianity:
Tooley warns that coercion, which presumably encompasses culturally cultivated social stigma, never works. As a good son of the Great Awakenings, he insists that only spontaneous revival will root the nation in transcendence. Any hint of state involvement therein, any governmental thumb on the scale, would be counterproductive, making religion forced, stale, or counterfeit. Best to not meddle as to not muddle.
Hypothetically, if national conservatives are “establishmentarians,” then we could call Tooley’s position “public atheism.” This is not to imply that Tooley or Christians like him—and there are many—are disingenuous or embarrassed by Christianity and the Bible. Rather, public atheism is a typical right-liberal posture akin to what used to be called practical atheism.
Public atheism, for our purposes, is marked by suspicion of, and hostility to, whatever smells of formal, state-level recognition and privileging (i.e., honor) of Christianity over and against other faiths on offer. It decries “public Christianity” as an artificial limitation of the realm of possibility. It is, in a word, pluralism, insofar as it features a kind of religious market fundamentalism.
From John Roberts’ dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015):
This Court’s precedents have repeatedly described marriage in ways that are consistent only with its traditional meaning. Early cases on the subject referred to marriage as “the union for life of one man and one woman,” Murphy v. Ramsey, 114 U. S. 15, 45 (1885), which forms “the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress,” Maynard v. Hill, 125 U. S. 190, 211 (1888). We later described marriage as “fundamental to our very existence and survival,” an understanding that necessarily implies a procreative component. Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, 12 (1967)… More recent cases have directly connected the right to marry with the “right to procreate….