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.

 

 

The Blasphemous Arrogance of John Calvin

If the early Protestant Reformers all have one thing in common—it is questionable that we should take the doctrine of sola scriptura as something in common, since it led each of them to go his own individual way—it is their arrogance, specifically, the arrogance that led each of them to proclaim that he and he alone, since the time of the Apostles, knew what Christianity and the true teachings of Christ and the Apostles are.  Indeed, some seem in practice to subordinate the words of the Apostles to their own ideas, and some even the teachings of Christ Himself.  Needless to say, the thoroughgoing arrogance of the Reformers stands in marked contrast to the Christian humility of the Saints.

Fr. Josiah Trenham has some words about the arrogance of John Calvin in particular.  Traditionalist liturgical Christians should feel this words keenly. I ask my Protestant readers to consider whether they are fair:

Calvin

John Calvin

Calvin read and quoted many Holy Fathers. He admired St. John Chrysostom’s biblical commentaries and once had resolved to translate them into French. He was a devotee of St. Augustine, and quoted Ss. Cyprian and Athanasius and others frequently. However, his attitude towards them was not an Orthodox one. Here are his words,

Certainly, Origen, Tertullian, Basil, Chrysostom and others like them would never have spoken as they do, if they had followed what judgment God had given them. But from desire to please the wise of the world, or at least from fear of annoying them, they mixed the earthly with the heavenly. That was a hateful thing, totally to cast man down, and repugnant to the common judgment of the flesh. These good persons seek a means more in conformity with human understanding: that is to concede I know not what to free will, and allow some natural virtue to man; but meanwhile the purity of the doctrine is profaned.

Here is Calvin in all his arrogance and theological overconfidence. His accusations against the likes of Ss. Chrysostom and Basil the Great are that they were too worldly, too submissive to worldly powers, and not willing enough to defy merely human judgments.

These charges are ironic in that they apply far more to Calvin himself and the Protestant Reformers than to the Holy Fathers he attacks. Chrysostom and Basil were ascetic monks who were other-worldly, and show Calvin as still quite fixed to the earth by comparison. Who was the one who rejected tonsure and married? And that a widow? Who was the one so irascible that he could not bear to be contradicted? Who was the one who determined eucharistic practice by the judgment of civil powers? Who was the one who received a large salary from the state? Who was the one complicit in the execution of heretics? Who was the one who died in the comfort of his own home with the approbation of the wise of Geneva, instead of in harsh exile with the opposition of the emperor? That the Holy Fathers refused to articulate Calvin’s doctrine of predestination is hardly a sign of complicity with worldly men, but rather a refusal to articulate what does not have the support of the Holy Scriptures and the consensus patrum.

On the issue of authority Calvin, as the other Reformers, posited a vacuous doctrine of sola scriptura which provided insufficient hermeneutical authority to insure even the agreement of those who claimed to believe the same things. Calvin fought with the Anabaptists, the Zwinglians, the Lutherans, and the Roman Catholics, while claiming the Scriptures were clear. And, though he read the Holy Fathers extensively, Calvin judged them all by their level of agreement with him, imputing moral depravity where none objectively existed in order to justify their universal disagreement with him. This is self-serving and contradictory theology.

Whatever the excesses of Rome, a “reformation” that subjects the truth of the Christian faith to endless schisms based on the wildly variable opinions of human beings is not a reformation at all, but a deadly poison.  Is it any wonder, given this ruinous and unscriptural principle of sola scriptura, that Protestant Christianity has steadily “reformed” Christianity further and further away from itself and finally out of existence? Once you allow the deposit of faith to be changed to please the world, changed it will be; and once changed, it will no longer be the deposit of faith entrusted by Christ to His Holy Apostles.

As St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3-4:

3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths and fables.

Have any words ever described our own times so well?