Friday, May 18, 2012

Why Liberals Can't Be Christians

Many people today think that the terms "liberal" and "conservative" are empty terms. I think that's because they don't understand what the terms mean. They don't mean "Democrat" and "Republican." There are very liberal Republicans and very conservative Democrats. They don't mean that you believe a certain amount of what has typically been considered liberal (e.g., pro-environment, anti-poverty) or conservative (e.g., pro-life, anti-homosexual agenda) causes. Americans are such ideological muts theses days that one cannot judge another person's interpretive authority simply based upon what side of a particular issue he comes down on. What they do mean, however, has great relevance for us, and will also help us understand that, although liberals are free to believe whatever spirituality they wish, they cannot be genuine Christians.

But let's define the terms first. The term "liberal" really refers to a person whose primary interpretive authority of reality is the Self. The term refers to the liberal, or free, position one wishes to have in interpreting life and experience. He or she is free from external authority as the primary guide in interpreting life.

By contrast, the term "conservative" refers to someone who seeks to "conserve" an external authority (a religious book, a religious body, a tradition within culture). He or she has one or more external authorities that serve as a guide in interpreting reality. The primary authority, then, is external, outside the self, and cannot be altered by the Self, as the self is but a lesser interpretive authority that must give way to that higher interpretive authority.

The question then becomes, Can both of these maintain their essential identities and accept genuine Christianity at the same time? In other words, can one simply adopt Christianity within either grid? My answer is, No, and here's why.

Christianity, at its very core, calls everyone to a denial of the self. But the self cannot be placed in submission under Christ if in fact it must remain to interpret Christ and all that God has said and made in the first place. If self experience is the ultimate guide to life, then it cannot be denied. In essence, if one argues that Christ uses the self to disclose the true nature of reality, then the Self is the most important authority in all the world, as it is the means through which God/Christ comes to us. I must, therefore, exalt it, not deny it.

The problem with this, of course, is that if Christianity, at its core, is the denial of the Self, then it cannot be the exaltation of the Self. In other words, liberalism in its essence is the antithesis of Christianity in its essence, and unlike other theses and antitheses, these two are diametrically opposed and cannot be reconciled, being an absolute contradiction.

Please understand that I am not saying that I don't like liberals and therefore want to exclude them from my group. My point is that by the very definition and the very practical outworking of liberalism, it simply cannot be wed to Christianity.

What happens instead is that liberals, like so many other cultures do with secondary religions, syncretize their secular humanism (which is what an exaltation of the Self to the primary interpretive authority of life is) with Christian themes and language, but have to throw out its core in an effort to maintain the identity of being "Christian." But this is no more Christian than any cult that uses certain themes and language of Christianity to clothe itself, only to deny the very foundations and matrix of Christianity itself. The liberal cannot bow the Self to Christ because he is always and at all times bowing Christ to the Self.

A Roman convert in the early Church could have argued that Christianity is compatible with Caesar worship, and made Christianity about a generic sense of love and morality; but at its core, Christianity is a rejection of all other lords in the exaltation of the one Lord, Jesus Christ. Hence, one cannot serve two masters.

This is not a problem for a conservative matrix, since conservatism by definition places its interpretive authority outside the Self. This means one must simply come to the correct external authority God uses to disclose Himself, and of course, in Christianity itself, and I would argue also at its core, this is the Bible and the Church, or I should say, this is the Bible through the Church.

It's not that self is not present. It's just learning to take a backseat to Christ as He communicates the correct interpretation of reality through an external source and an external means first. And this is not what liberalism is capable of doing, lest it no longer be liberalism, i.e., a freedom from external authorities as primary interpreters of reality.

So liberals really can't be Christians, simply because a circle can't be a square. I know that sounds very narrow minded and mean to exclude a poor square that wants to be called a circle, but those are just the facts. I can redefine things to fit, but that's simply a rearrangement of words to make everyone feel better. It doesn't shift reality. I can use my oft cited example of claiming to be a butterfly, as long as I define "butterfly" to mean everything that defines a human and nothing that defines a butterfly. In the same sense, I can call liberals Christians as long as what I mean by Christian is everything that isn't Christian and everything that is secular humanism instead (again, by "secular humanism" I don't mean non-religious or non-spiritual).

The truth is there is no such thing as a conservative Christian either, since all Christians by definition must have their interpretive authority outside of the Self, as the Self is being humbled and denied that authority to dictate the true nature of reality. Hence, there are only Christians who are conservatives. There is simply no other category within Christianity.

I'm sure someone will simply say that this is just another case of mean old Christianity excluding another group, but such a person didn't bother to read what I wrote above with any sense of the point being made. My point is that liberalism and Christianity exclude one another. They reject one another. Liberals may like certain themes in the Bible, certain traditions, certain language, even certain doctrines; but they cannot allow the Bible and the Church to reside over them in interpreting life for them in an absolute sense. They simply cannot bow the Self down to another, as in their religion, the heart knows best (there's the assumption of that liberal anthropology again).

So when I speak of liberals, this is what I mean by it. I mean those who place themselves and their experiences as the primary interpreters of reality. External authorities are subjected to the Self rather than vice versa.

You can see why it makes no sense to continue the facade any longer. And you can also see why liberalism kills churches (Why bother going to church if the Bible it preaches or the truth in which it fellowships is inferior to what you can gather for yourself through meaningful experiences elsewhere?).

Unfortunately, what is said above will not gain much traction among liberals, and they will continue to claim to be Christians anyway, as do Mormons, as do Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. That's because very few people who have come to see Christianity as something to do with God really want to reject Christ outright. They would rather just reinvent Him in their own image, i.e., in the image they personally see as most worthy of their respect. So the claim, no matter how delusional and contradictory it may be, will continue; and we will continue to hear the term "conservative Christian" as one category of Christian, even though that is the only category within Christianity that can logically exist.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. cluster beliefs. People want to be consider progressive so they accept the set of beliefs called progressive even though they have been proved factually wrong. EG many Jews get disappointed with Orthodox Judaism so accept all progressive beliefs as a reaction to what they were taught. The problem with this is that socialist Marxists beliefs were certainly the most advanced and progressive one hundred years ago. The thing is that eventually some smart people started analyzing the basis for the Marxist socialist system and discovered that most of the basis of Marx was proved false. This is the reason that Marx is taught only in philosophy departments in the USA. Though he did not have a theory of philosophy but rather a theory of economics. And his economies has been disproved.[the labor theory of value is false]

  3. I guess you can win almost any argument if your redefine words in ways that suit your arguments, but of course that means you are somewhat disconnected from the reality everyone else is living in. The meaning of words is created by their usage, that is if you want to actually communicate. Of course if you are just blowing hot air around then do what you like.

  4. Interesting "definitions" of your two key terms.

  5. Yes, well, I tend to define words by what those words describe, and since the definitions above are implicit within the most prominent English dictionaries and actually describe the epistemic liberalism to which I'm referring, the only hot air spent will be those wishing to save an incompatible system within modern Christendom. But, of course, your comment is an assertion that I've committed a lexical fallacy when in fact I've actually defined the terms by the true issues at hand. In essence, you’re arguing that my definitions are contrary to use rather than a refining of the current definitions that more accurately describes how the terms are being used. Only by defining them epistemologically can one understand how they are distinct. Conservatism and liberalism are not distinct otherwise, which is why so many think they are irrelevant terms today. Yet, they are still used in contrast to one another. I’ve simply explained why that is and how epistemic liberalism (the most prominent kind) is not compatible with Christianity. Hence, since the two appear in contrast in the way they are USED, they evidence a that a distinction is being made. I've simply tried to draw out the real distinction and such is exactly what the dictionaries are attempting to define when they categorize the terms. You can look the terms up in dictionaries like Websters and the Oxford English Dictionary to see their attempt at describing what I’ve said above. If you have a counter argument to that, I'd love to hear it rather than just pure assertion that I've not properly digested the lexical information.

    BTW, this attempt to undermine what I've said by appealing to some lexical fallacy isn't going to fly here. I have both diachronic and synchronic evidence on my side, so again, what I've said here stands. I think the way I've defined it above best explains the two groups according to their primary distinctions. And one cannot negate one meaning of "liberal" by another, simply because there are multiple uses of the term (and there are multiple uses). I've drawn upon only one, i.e., what I would call epistemic liberalism and epistemic conservativism.

  6. Thanks Dale. I thought they were interesting too. ;-)

  7. Furthermore, if anyone is caught up on my use of the etymology in applying it to the epistemology, please note that the post is about internal versus external authorities in terms of what is willfully pursued as primary in the effort to interpret reality (i.e., I could just take out the terms and the same point can be made). People just don't like the fact that liberals have as their primary interpretive authority that which is to be denied as such in Christianity. Hey, I didn't say that Christianity was incompatible with such an exaltation of the Self. Christ did.

  8. Not that I am implying you are a Conservative, nor am I a Liberal (I just stumbled here); but keep in mind (if you haven't already), how you define Liberalism would be a blow to modern Conservatives, as they are Classic-Liberals (or at least 'try' to be), and that is where the definition you use comes from.

  9. Remember, I make a distinction between different kinds of conservatives as well. But it depends upon what kind of conservative you're talking about. The kind that I see in contrast to epistemic liberalism could not be conservative and liberal in the classical (epistemic) sense. I think you might be referring to different forms of liberalism (classically, there are a few ways the term was used, most of which are compatible with conservativism.

  10. I know you make the distinction between the types of Conservatism :). I just wanted to make note that your definition of Liberal encompasses modern American Conservatism (Tea Party, Republican Party, Ron Paul, etc.). The Conservatism you define seems also to be based largely upon the Classical definition of the old ways aka--- Monarchy and the Church. In other words, America is liberal in your system, and its emphasis on individuality and individual authority (like what is seen in the 2nd Great Awakening). So I am not disagreeing with your definitions at all, just noticing an implication :).

  11. Agreed. That's a good point to be made. That's why we can never assume that one's political stance necessarily makes him a true conservative. However, I do think that many people in the Tea Party, Ron Paul, etc. can be classified as conservatives for their allegiances to a tradition as their external authority (for the Tea Party that tradition might be the Constitution or the way it was in the 1950's, etc.). But, as you noted, many probably fall under the category "liberal" who wouldn't normally classify themselves as such.

  12. This is where I'd say it gets dicey, and I think Stanley Hauerwas makes a good point of this; even those who claim self-authority about reality seem to fall in line with a tradition. You're either an idealist, anti-realist, or realist, and all of these happen to have a fine line of tradition in Western thought or Buddhist thought. And thus, the self interpretation of reality is probably going to fall into a line of already existent interpretation. In other words, there is no such thing as a Self interpretation of reality---everyone is reliant upon some sort of tradition.

  13. Yeah, and I think this is where some people misunderstood me as well. I'm not saying that conservatives are influenced by a tradition and liberals are not. Liberals often like to think of themselves that way, but we are all encased in presupposition and tradition. The issue above is really dealing with whether one sees an external authority, like a tradition, as the primary authority for interpreting life. In other words, whether one purposely argues about "the way things should be" primarily from an external authority or from an internal one.

    Liberals, of course, use all sorts of authorities (tradition, community, the Bible, etc.) in order to bolster their claims, but when these are viewed as conflicting with their personal sentiments, they are simply reinterpreted against their authorial intent or simply discarded altogether due to their attribution to being merely man made.

    So you're right in that no one is a freethinker, as many liberals often claim, but all are in a box and must assume ideas gained from some source that is being attributed authority in those assumptions; but the issue is whether one sees the Self as the ultimate arbiter of all that, or recognizes an external source as the ultimate arbiter all other views of reality.

    So I do agree that liberalism, in its assumptions, is self defeating, as no one is really free from his traditions without binding himself to another tradition in order to judge that one. The problem, and you can see this in some of the comments above, is that liberals either don't recognize this, or they tip a hat to it and proceed to speak as though they can move beyond external authorities because of their experience (again, either empirical or existential). So there is no real autonomy of Self in terms of influence, but that doesn't mean that the Self does not try to be autonomous. And if truth be told, liberals just don't like orthodox Christianity, and that's really from whence these arguments for autonomy often stem.

  14. The term "liberal" really refers to a person whose primary interpretive authority of reality is the Self.

    Horse DUNG.

  15. "Horse DUNG"

    LOL. Thanks for your well reasoned rebuttal. I think I'll use that in academic settings when any proposal I don't like is made. I'm sure it will stand up as good as any real argument. For now, though, I'm going to have to use logic in my arguments, but maybe someday I can advance beyond logic as you have here to make my arguments. Thanks for "commenting."

  16. At what point has anyone - other than yourself - ever defined liberalism as exalting oneself as the highest authority? And at what point has anyone ever defined conservatism as specifically trying to conserve an "external authority"? In my life I have never heard these words defined as such; rather they are definitions that you have made up yourself, and then you name your article "Why Liberals Can't Be Christians" which implies that a true Christian cannot vote Democrat, (which I happen to agree with, but for altogether different reasons). So it seems as though you make up your own definitions in order to assert that a certain political party is the only way for Christians to vote, no?

    But even if "the term 'liberal' really refers to a person whose primary interpretive authority of reality is the Self," as you claim, this is surely only a definition used in certain small circles, or perhaps in the past. But considering all language is arbitrary and constantly changing this is by no means that absolute definition of liberalism, in fact it is much better suited as the definition of Secular Humanism, which means a much more appropriate title for the article would be "Why Secular Humanists Cannot Be Christians"

    - JP

  17. Hi JP,

    I'm afraid you have not read the article very clearly. Let me clarify again what I'm saying here:

    1. The terms are irrelevant. I simply use them as a place to start. You can use the terms "Sneeble" and Curfwubble" instead if you like. It's irrelevant. I just start with the terms and describe why these terms should be applied to these two groups of people.

    2. I'm identifying two different epistemological trajectories. If one fits in that trajectory then he is a true liberal, free from external authority as his primary means to access reality. If one does not, then calling himself a liberal is nonsense, and the terms truly have no meaning.

    3. Hence, a liberal isn't one who simply calls himself a liberal, is considered liberal for specific issues to which he might ascribe, or to what political party he might belong; but rather is found in his ultimate authority.

    4. Secular humanism is liberalism. They are the exact same thing. Secular humanists have all sorts of religious beliefs, but they judge all things by themselves. Hence, on can be very religious and secular humanist. I'm not sure how you would define liberalism apart from that historically or in our contemporary context for that matter.

    5. Finally, you're appealing to an argument ad populum. I don't really care so much that others don't see what's right in front of their faces. All of the major dictionaries, to which I alluded before, are all trying to get at what I say here. They're just not as precise. But this explains the divide and why liberals and conservatives just don't see eye to eye. It also explains, what I say here, that liberals cannot be Christians.

    But I'll give you a go. You define liberalism for me that encompasses the distinction between a liberal and conservative epistemology. Let's hear it.

  18. "My point is that liberalism and Christianity exclude one another."

    It's a good point. And I'm glad that you took careful pains to develop your nuanced argument.