Recently Tim Farron, who was leader of the Liberal Democrats at the time of the election earlier this year gave a speech at the Christian think tank Theos. I find myself in agreement with so much that he says. Even in an edited form it is very long, but has much to say about our need to engage with the world around us.
A full copy of the speech can be found here: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/tim-farron-liberalism-is-eating-itself-but-christianity-can-save-it/119921.htm
These are a few highlights, more next week.
My hypothesis today is that in this country and across the world, Liberalism will eat itself. Is eating itself. May already have eaten itself.
Why? Because if you say you favour diversity and pluralism, then you must oppose all attempts at assimilation and forced conformity. You may like the idea that people will think the same as you, but you must not aim to build a society where you engineer that via legal or social pressure. And it is especially on this this latter point that liberalism is at risk.
John Stuart Mill says that the quality of our ideas and of our society is enhanced by free expression of competing world views. Society is stale without that. He is clear that our liberty is at risk when we all feel a pressure to start thinking the same things. Even more at risk when it is the express intention of those who hold those views to encourage this universal assimilation. Social media feeds this. Maybe ten years ago we thought social media would lead to a greater democracy, greater individual empowerment, the flowering of thousands of unmediated, unfiltered, unspun viewpoints and opinions. How naïve does that sound now? Today social media fuels groupthink, pack mentality and depressing conformity – not to mention a disgraceful lack of civility and decency. The tyrants of opinion have their secret police behind millions of keyboards.
Christians have more reason than most to be alarmed. Christians also have a history which gives us a clue as to where this may be going.
If anyone tries to threaten my life or liberty for seeking to live as a Christian, I can count on the state to protect me.
If you want to live freely as a Christian, you would struggle to find a country as committed to your liberty as this one. Christians who complain about a loss of liberty need to start by acknowledging that reality. And being grateful for it. So let me make it clear now that I do acknowledge this and I am grateful.
But genuine Christianity has always has been countercultural. It will always go against the norms of the day. And as Christians, we are to live as aliens in such a land.
Five minutes on social media will give you a window into a society which condemns and judges, that leaps to take offence and pounces to cause it – liberals condemning those who don’t conform as nasty and hateful, the right condemning liberals as fragile snowflakes; but Christianity rebukes both sides: don’t judge, show kindness, show gentleness, show patience – especially to those who don’t deserve it.
Five minutes in the high street, especially now in the run up to Christmas, will show you a society hooked on materialism, five minutes eavesdropping in the cafes or glancing at peoples Facebook updates will show you a society hooked on individual achievement, on the achievement of your children, a society hooked on self-worth and pride.
Christianity tells you that everything and everyone you have in your life is a temporary gift from God and that we should worship the giver, not the things that have been given.
Five minutes surfing TV channels will show you a society hooked on self-esteem, self-worth, living to be true to ourselves… Christianity says that you are worth a vast amount to the God of the universe, but that you must humble yourself before him and live for him and others, not for yourself.
Christianity is deeply counter cultural. It offends us because it tells us that we are not our own, that we belong to God. It tells us that we are not good, that our biggest need is not food, water, money, relationships, success or acceptance by society… our greatest need is forgiveness from the God who made us. Christianity is a two-fingered salute to your ego.
So, what earthly help can this countercultural belief system call upon as it battles against inevitable disdain? The answer is simple. The answer is Liberalism.
Despite my best efforts, the Liberal Democrats have not won. But irrespective of my efforts, Liberalism has.
In the 4th century, in Rome, Christianity won, in that it became the establishment world view. Up to that point there had been three hundred years of persecution and exclusion for the followers of Jesus Christ.
Christianity was an emancipationist doctrine at that time, it then became adopted as the official religion of the empire and within a few years it goes from being emancipationist to – at the centre of the empire at least – being oppressive in its worst forms.
But the church morphed from persecuted to dominant in a short time, and in doing so it lost sight of its own internal truth of reliance on Christ alone and self-sacrificing love. The state with which that church merged began to oppress different minorities, to show the same intolerance and violence towards other groups that Christians had endured for so many years.
Liberalism faces the same fate today.
Written by Tony Thompson