Sunday, August 27, 2017

Liberalism Is A Theological System

It is fast approaching a century since J. Gresham Machen wrote his masterpiece Christianity & Liberalism. I reviewed this work in 2015 and it remains one of the most quotable and profound books I have ever read. Machen's basic premise is pretty simple but it is quite shocking to hear in our religious culture in 2017 where the notion that liberalism is compatible with Christianity and is indeed the most woke manifestation of the faith is pretty common-place. His main thesis is that Christianity and liberalism are distinct and contrary belief systems. This is perhaps my favorite quote from his book:
But one thing is perfectly plain – whether or not liberals are Christians, it is at any rate perfectly clear that liberalism is not Christianity. And that being the case, it is highly undesirable that liberalism and Christianity should continue to be propagated within the bounds of the same organization. A separation between the two parties in the Church is the crying need of the hour. J. Gresham Machen (0100-12-31 17:00:00-07:00). Christianity & Liberalism (Kindle Locations 2201-2204)
Machen point is every bit as relevant today as it was a century ago and that separation is still the crying need of the hour. Liberalism, or it's popular nom de guerre "progressivism", is a religious system and as such it can only be seen as a competitor to the faith delivered once for all to the saints, not a legitimate manifestation of the faith. I made this point in my review immediately after the quote reproduced above:
Or as I like to put it, progressives might be Christians but if so it is in spite of, not because of, their progressive notions.
For the remainder of this post please assume scare quotes around uses of the word "progressive" and "liberal" because the political, economic, cultural and above all religious systems that go under those names do not represent progress in any sense and are more and more illiberal with each passing day.

Michael Moore, the corpulent film-maker and filthy rich faux populist made this point for me quite a succinct manner via a Tweet last month.

Notice the theological language here of redemption and sin. We never fixed it. We never redeemed ourselves. God is replaced by man and if that isn't the basic problem with every false theological system, I don't know what is. Man doesn't sin against God, man sins against fellow man and therefore man must somehow redeem himself by offering some sort of propitiation to his fellow man. Despite the fact that no one alive was involved in the "genocide of Indians" (oooh, dat non-PC language!) and no one alive outside of Africa is involved in any way with the enslaving of black people, we as the posterity of those who did are collectively guilty. Thus the language of original sin. I think that a lot of people who are not progressives thought that electing Barack Obama would somehow serve as a once for all sacrifice for our past sins. But obviously not. In the eyes of Moore and other liberals, the failure of America to fully embrace every aspect of Obama's agenda and then to commit the gravest of sins by replacing Obama with Donald Trump has actually undone every bit of progress, such as it is, in America's endless quest to "redeem ourselves". In reality the religion of liberalism has kind of gone Old Testament on us, with wrath and fire being unleashed against anyone who even sort of looks like he has a "neo-Nazi" haircut. In place of separating the sheep and the goats, liberalism separates us based on victim status, either you are oppressed or you are an oppressor. There are no other options and like Christianity there is no purgatory.

Not written out in the Tweet but clearly implied is the system of atonement demanded by Moore and his fellow progressives which is more akin to the Old Covenant temple system of endless and repetitive sacrifices than the atoning sacrifice that is the center of the Christian faith. In a system with an endless supply of generational guilt, there is a corresponding endless demand for propitiation in the form of income redistribution, race/gender/sexual orientation based preferences in education and employment, limitless bureaucratic positions to monitor the progress that we all know will never be sufficient and the daily self-abasement by anyone part of a persecutor category (ideally White, male, heterosexual, Christian but exceptions can and are made for people like White supremacist Charles Barkley). In the place of clergy, there are low level bureaucrats. In place of bishops we have academics and politicians. In place of evangelists we have "celebrities" and "entertainers". The concept of sin is mutable based on the culture of the day. Today referring to someone that is male as "he" when that person is mentally ill and thinks that they are a woman is a sin. Five years ago it was not, for the most part. Who knows what the most critical protected class you can sin against will be in five years or even later this year. Literally nothing would surprise me.

Like libertarianism or Marxism or White nationalism or any other "-ism", liberalism is a worldview and a philosophy but for far too many of it's acolytes it is also a religion. Worse yet, a lot of people conflate liberalism and Christianity when the two are quite clearly at odds. I would look at someone who says that God wants us to endlessly engage in racial recriminations and government enforced income redistribution as a means of carrying out the second Great Commandment with the same stink eye I would give to someone who claimed that 2 Thessalonian 3:10 was a modern description of American style crony capitalism.

Leftist political ideology is every bit as much of a religion as Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism and the bloody record of the radical Left religion in the 20th century puts all of the Crusades and the Inquisition to shame. Conservatism has issues of it's own in this respect, especially in the David Barton circles that conflate America and Old Covenant Israel but liberalism is a far more common-place religious faith, among those who would consider themselves to be completely irreligious as well as those who try to marry progressive politics and the Christian faith. The church needs to respond to liberalism not primarily as a political world-view but as a competing and false religious system. Issues like man-made "climate change" are not an issue of science versus religion but rather a conflict between two religious systems. Only when we recognize the faith-based religious zealotry of liberalism can we properly provide the counter-narrative of the Gospel.

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