An Illiberal Wind Blows

“Democracy needs religion more than religion needs democracy. A religion can live without democracy; it can live under tyranny, persecution, and dictatorship – not comfortably, it is true, but heroically and divinely. But democracy cannot live without religion, for without religion democracy will degenerate into demagogy by selling itself to the highest bidder.” – The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen

There lies at the heart of the American experiment a great disharmony. Having been founded on classically liberal ideals, perhaps most prominently the idea that liberality and religious devotion may coexist even if in a sort of creative tension, America has in the last decade grown increasingly hostile towards her own once liberal inclinations. These changes have been insidious but subtle, and a look at the present social, political, and religious climates will reveal to the honest observer that something is greatly amiss.

While not an American example, a still important case to consider is that of Mr Tim Farron, who was until very recently the party leader of the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom. Mr. Farron, as it happens, is a practicing evangelical Christian and it was precisely his Christian faith that led to his resignation from his position of leadership. Despite being thoroughly liberal in his political convictions he was continually hounded for his religious beliefs, and their implied conflict.

Unfortunately for Mr. Farron, it was not enough for his fellow party members for him to support the party positions on dividing issues like same-sex marriage or abortion, though he certainly did support them. Rather his inquisitors, who have repeatedly questioned him on his religious beliefs, needed to know whether or not be believed such things were sinful or, preferred by the liberal worldview, whether they were good. In other words, it was not enough to Mr. Farron support their legality. He had to think the correct thoughts according to party positions. His private thoughts must fall in line with public ideological orthodoxy.

In his resignation speech, quoted at length, Mr. Farron writes,

At the start of this election, I found myself under scrutiny again – asked about matters to do with my faith. I felt guilty that this focus was distracting attention from our campaign, obscuring our message.

Journalists have every right to ask what they see fit. The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader. 

A better, wiser person than me may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to have remained faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment. 

To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me. 

Consider this. A man at the head of the party that claims to champion liberal ideals in the United Kingdom has been run out of his position of leadership because his religious beliefs which happened to be in conflict with party lines were deemed intolerable.

More:

I’m a liberal to my finger tips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me. 

There are Christians in politics who take the view that they should impose the tenets of faith on society, but I have not taken that approach because I disagree with it – it’s not liberal and it is counterproductive when it comes to advancing the gospel.

Even so, I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in.

In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.

That’s why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.”

There can be no confusion over what Mr. Farron is saying here. He has been run out of his party because of his religious beliefs. Despite supporting all the right causes, and contributing to their expansion throughout British society, his privately held beliefs were not acceptable to his peers though his beliefs clearly did not influence his public advocacy, as it should have.

Of course, this is happening in the United Kingdom, and not in the United States – yet – but let us not fool ourselves into believing that this sort of thing is not coming. It is, and the honest amongst us will admit it. Consider the recent attempt by the Democratic National Committee to impose absolute standards by which one must adhere in order to be a member of the party. From DNC Chairman Tom Perez to the Huffington Post:

Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.” 

Perez was soon thereafter talked off of the ideological ledge, for the time being, but the fact remains that the leader of one of America’s two major political parties said quite plainly that Democratic support for abortion is a non-negotiable issue for Democratic membership. Pro-life Democrats, if Perez ended up getting his way, would have no place in their own party because of their religious convictions.

In a liberal society there are no restraining forces, as liberalism is a fundamental rejection of formal authority structures. There is no higher ideal or commonly held belief to be appealed to, as the power rests with the individual. When religion is removed from a liberal society, it will quickly devolve into man versus man, and opinion versus opinion and again, because there is no commonly held ideal available for appeal, the conflict is never truly solved. Imagine, if you will, the famous instance of King Solomon deciding in the dispute over the child, but with King Solomon having been removed. That is a liberal society.

We have already seen examples of orthodox and Orthodox Christian faith being the rock upon which many a career has been broken – Professors Anthony Esolen and Paul Griffiths, of Providence College and Duke Divinity School respectively, stand out as the most recent examples.

Britain is farther along this path, but the U.S. is making strides towards this very same end. There are those who say that the sort of things happening in the U.K., and larger Europe, won’t happen here. If only they were correct. It is important to address these futures honestly that we may be prepared for them upon their arrival.

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