Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

American Liberalism

The discussion of liberalism is popping up everywhere on our blogs. Jonathan Norman makes reference to the presence of fundamentalisms of the left and right in American political discourse. He asked me to write a statement about these fundamentalisms, and I wanted to post it here to draw feedback from everyone. It is overly simplistic and reductionistic, but I tried to write in such a way that people not versed in the theology we've all been reading and discussing could easily grasp some of what we critique as the effects of liberalism in American culture. Does this capture and describe the phenomenon?

Fundamentalism of the Left
Steeped in the vision and language of modernity, the rational autonomous individual is the chief moral actor. Institutions and culture are of secondary importance. As a result, the language of liberal fundamentalists is connected very much to the issue of defining fundamental rights. These rights usually center on the individual's freedom to associate, to speak, and to choose what to do with one's own body. The government should remove itself from personal decisions regarding bodily practices, but should be able to intervene in economic situations to redistribute wealth more equitably. Liberal fundamentalism is highly deterministic in that the purpose of the government and the end of life is connected to a certain vision of liberty- a liberty that seeks to overcome the traditionally empowered by effecting a shift to the traditionally disenfranchised (i.e. protecting the presentation of Buddhism or Islam while absolutely prohibiting Christianity from the public square).

There is little room for meaningful dialogue because all the decisions and outcomes are prescribed ahead of time.

Fundamentalism of the Right
Also steeped in the language and vision of modernity, so also is the rational autonomous individual the chief moral agent. Institutions and culture are of secondary importance. Again, the language of rights also dominates here, although usually spoken in the language of "values." The fundamentalism of the right is centered on the right of the individual to compete unencumbered in the market, to freely use money that is inherently hers, and to be left alone by the government except in the arena of the body where "public morals" must be protected. Thus, a conservative fundamentalism is also highly deterministic. It also paints a picture of the way the world should operates and ahead of time determines how conversations and dialogue should end.

Flip Sides of the Same Coin
Truthfully, there is little difference theologically between the two sides. They just pick different sides of the same liberal coin. This is dangerous for Christianity immediately because lost in the ideological battles is really any need for Christ. As Milbank so beautifully spells out in "Can Morality Be Christian," in neither case is Christ necessary to the system. You can be a good moral liberal or a good moral conservative simply by being right on the proper set of issues. There is no need to confess Christ and Him crucified. Instead, there is a vicious cycle of violent attempts on both sides to narrate humanity's destiny via humanistic self-improvement. Since both narratives are not grounded in participation in God's Triune life, they ultimately and inevitably become nihilistic. They both become ways of death, ehich Jonathan reflects in his post. As Alasdair McIntyre points out in After Virtue, the debates become incommensurable. Take abortion. The Left musters an argument about a woman's right to choose, which if you accept their paradigm is rational. Similarly, the Right presents an argument regarding the sanctity of life, which if you subscribe to their argument is also rational. The two sides use similar terms but possess a radically different grammar; however, in all cases, the government becomes the primary vehicle to seek action. For Christians, this should be problematic because the Church should be the institution that forms and guides our lives. Our actions should be embodied as the Body of Christ, not in the pursuit of domestic political agendas (that by definition must be ideological). Fundamentalisms of the Left and Right reduce Christianity to nothing more than an ideology, and render Christian faith unnecessary.

Consequently, it will only be by learning the grammar embodied in good Christian liturgy that we can begin again to embody an ecclessiology that will enable us to live as a people who understand our lives to be nothing more than to be made into the image of Christ and faithfully witness to His power and grace. The way beyond neoconservatism and current strands of liberalism is to see them for what they are, name them, and move beyond them by participating again as the Kingdom of God.

Grace and Peace,


Blogger David said...


November 08, 2005 9:36 PM  
Blogger Eric Lee said...

Also, I think the fundamentalisms of the right and left can't exist without defining themselves by not being each other (this stems from their univocal notion of being, of which they are probably not ever aware).

For example, like Jamie Smith talked about in his "Evangelicals out of the box" interview, the "left" fundamentalists don't want to have anything to do with those on the "right", so all of their positions are the opposite of those on the right, and they can't stand using any language that might sound even remotely like the right.

On the other side of the coin, the fundamentalists on the "right" do the same thing, defining themselves against "those liberals", often decrying "the other side" as "godless" when their own position doesn't even require the confession of Christ to exist in the first place.

Both of these fundamentalisms stem from modern liberalism.

The same thing goes for Capitalism and Marxism: Capitalism can't exist in it's current incarnation without defining itself as "not Marxist" and Marxism very much depends upon passing through obstacles such as Capitalism until Marxism is reached. There are some professors on the PLNU campus, unfortunately, who make rumours about certain speakers being "Marxists" (used perjoritavely, of course), thus staking their claim with Capitalism.

In the end, though, both systems look to the state for the rational individual's ultimate "freedom," which makes neither system Christian.



November 09, 2005 10:42 AM  

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