Liberalism and Protestantism: The Same Dilemma

Classical liberalism is fast becoming a conservative position, in the face of neo-Progressivism aka the Regressive Left aka the Social Justice movement/cult.

Classical liberals are seeing their most dearly held values and beliefs tossed on the rubbish heap of history, as being “on the wrong side” of history.  Basic individual rights and freedoms, such as freedom of speech and freedom of belief are nowadays under constant attack.

The trouble is, as classical liberals are waking up to this reality, more and more, they are sounding the alarm, and even the call to arms: “We must fight for our culture and our values! We must endure struggle and sacrifice.  We cannot allow these things to be taken from us!”

Well, why not?

“Because otherwise another culture with different values, which are equally valid, will as a matter historical fact replace our culture and our values, which again, are not more or less valid than the alternative.”

That isn’t a terribly motivating reason.

The dilemma that secular liberalism finds itself in is that it has, in the name of its principles, rejected all possible non-arbitrary foundation for its principles.

The secular liberal, it seems to me, is in exactly the same situation as the Protestant.

The Protestant proclaims the doctrine of sola scriptura, “scripture alone”, and that all we need as a foundation is the Bible. But instead of a foundation, what Protestants get is ten thousand different and incompatible interpretations of “what the Bible really says.”  (I don’t mean you, dear Protestant who belongs to a ‘church’ with 100 members. You are of course correct. The Holy Spirit speaks directly only to your tiny sect.)

The secular liberal, in fine ‘Enlightenment’ style proclaims the parallel doctrine of sola ratio, “reason alone,” and that all we need as a foundation is reason.  But reason works from premises to conclusions; and reason doesn’t supply its own most basic premises.  So just like the Protestants, secular liberals produce tend thousands sects and parties who all claim to know “what reason really says”—depending on which premises they start from.

Unfortunately for the secular liberal, the ‘Enlightenment’ conception of reason—I hope you understand why ‘Enlightenment’ requires enclosing in inverted commas—is of no help:

HumeContraryToReason

A minimalist, instrumental, reductions view of reason cannot help.

The classical view of reason as λόγος goes much farther but even that is insufficient. The only coherent grounding of Western culture and Western values is the Christian faith, which is entirely compatible with reason (unlike Islam), yet goes beyond it, and so can serve as its transcendent ground and anchor for reason and for the values the West dared to proclaim is eternal and self-evident truths:

DeclarationofIndependence

Without a transcendent foundation in the Creator, reason fails and falls to the level of sophistry, of merely competing narratives, a situation which many of  best philosophers of our day declare openly, either morosely or in celebration: at long last, the tyranny of reason is at an end! 

In abandoning God and Christianity, the West has not “liberated” itself, but rather has placed itself in the tyranny of an infinite number of “narratives”, all of which claim the sanction of reason, none of which can support this claim as true of them in particular.

How does the Protestant member of a tiny sect know that his version of Christianity is true, out of the ten thousand or so Protestant sects? He appeals directly to the Holy Spirit, who told him so.

How does the secular liberal know that just his version of liberal secularism and humanism is correct? “Reason” told him so.

Neither the Protestant sectarian nor the liberal secular sectarian can adequately explain why “the Holy Spirit” and “Reason” tell other people different things, and why he and he alone has the right of things.

Nevertheless, human beings are sturdy creatures, and the prejudice “I am right, while everyone else is wrong, because I am me, and they aren’t,” rarely fails us on a personal level.

It only fails us on a universal level when our existence as a community, as a culture and a civilization, depends upon unity and agreement, something the modern West now seems incapable of.

 

 

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