Posts tagged with: individualism

kuyper-2-pro-rege“A human kingship imperceptibly came to power, leaving no place for the kingship of Christ.” –Abraham Kuyper

The West prides itself on valuing freedom – political, economic, religious, and otherwise. For some, this leads to the promotion of a certain brand of libertinism: the freedom to do what we want. For others, such as Lord Acton, “Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”

For the Christian in particular, true freedom is more than a little paradoxical, involving plenty of constraints and restraints. We know that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” and yet, in keeping with the upside-down economics of the Gospel – “the first shall be last,” “those who lose their life will find it” – it comes with prepackaged with calls to servanthood and obedience. These are good hints that true freedom may have less to do with nitpicking over “choice” and “constraint” and more to do with accurately recognizing the image of God we bear and the responsibility it entails.

In seasons of pain and frustration, the notion tends to feel more clear and less paradoxical, of course. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer,” the Psalmist sings. “My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

This is the sound of freedom through dependence, and it’s one that Christians are well familiar with. But it’s a song we also tend to forget and neglect. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
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Athenebrunnen-Stuttgart Athene+ZeusOver at the Gospel Coalition last week I reviewed Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. As I conclude, “The story he tells is true, but at some points only half-true. The half-truth is still valuable, though, if for no other reason than that it runs so counter to much contemporary self-understanding. Siedentop’s interpretation helpfully casts doubt on the dominant narrative of secularism’s emergence from the oppressive claims of God and religion.”

One way of understanding the half-truth of Siedentop’s narrative is that he is right to point out the Christian roots of liberty and liberalism in the modern West, but incorrect in his understanding of Christianity and Christian liberalism. There is more than one kind of liberalism, and some of them end up in not liberty but tyranny.

Confusions abound, and much of our understanding turns on proper definitions. Take, for instance, the word liberalism. For many, this conjures up images of secular, progressive politicians and ideologues. While this may be the dominant contemporary political identification, there is also a classical understanding of liberalism that is worthy of engagement. And in the religious realm, liberalism has yet different meanings, such that J. Gresham Machen’s classic work Christianity and Liberalism would identify in the following way: “the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted innaturalism–that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.”

In this way our understanding of the relationship between Christianity and liberty, whether in historical or normative terms, will depend upon our definitions. And as Machen would have it, proper definitions are a laudable, if controversial, place to start: “Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding.”

For more on the relationship between Christianity and liberty, see Sam Gregg’s review essay, “How Christianity Created the Free Society.”

Brooks-2x1500We continue to see the expansion of freedom and the economic prosperity around the world. And yet, despite having enjoyed such freedom and its fruits for centuries, the West is stuck in a crisis of moral imagination.

For all of its blessings, modernity has led many of us to pair our comfort and prosperity with a secular, naturalistic ethos, relishing in our own strength and designs and trusting in the power of reason to drive our ethics.

The result is a uniquely moralistic moral vacuum, a “liberal paradox,” as Gaylen Byker calls it — “a hunger for meaning and values in an age of freedom and plenty.”

In the past, American prosperity has been buoyed by the strength of its institutions: religious, civil, political, economic, and otherwise. But as writers such as Yuval Levin and Charles Murray have aptly outlined, the religious and institutional vibrancy that Alexis de Tocqueville once hailed appears to be dwindling, making the space between individual and state increasingly thin.

The revival and restoration of religious and civic life is essential if we hope to cultivate a free and virtuous society, occurring across spheres and sectors, from the family to business, from the church to political institutions.

Given the increasing attacks on religious liberty, Christian colleges and universities are standing particularly tall, even as they endure some of the highest heat. In a recent talk for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, David Brooks demonstrates the cultural importance of retaining that liberty, explaining how his recent experiences with Christian educational institutions have affirmed their role in weaving (or re-weaving) the fabric of American life. (Read his full remarks here.) (more…)

cracked-flag-fragment-america-dividedThe fabric of American society is tearing at the seams. Whether witnessed through the disruptive insurgencies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders or the more mundane fissures of pop culture and daily consumerism, Americans are increasingly divided and diverse.

Yet even in our rash attempts to dismantle Establishment X and Power Center Y, we do so with a peculiar nostalgia of the golden days of yore. You know, those days when institutions mattered?

This is particularly evident in the appeal of Mr. Trump, whose calls to burn down the houses of power come pre-packaged with a simultaneous disdain for the power of bottom-up diversity and the liberty it requires. Once the tattered castle on the hill is torched to the ground, we’re told, we will receive a greater castle on a higher hill with a far more deserving king. The scepter will be yuge, and with power restored to the hands of a man shrewd enough to exploit it, surely we will “win” again. (more…)

Alexis_de_tocqueville_croppedWhat is social justice? Is it a vision of a perfectly just society? Is it an ideal set of government policies? Is it a particular theory or practice? Is it a virtue? A religious concept? A social arrangement?

In a lecture at Acton University on his forthcoming book, Social Justice: What It Is, What It Isn’t, Michael Novak sought to answer some these questions with a particular framework around intermediary institutions.

Offering a broad survey of the term’s origins, history, and modern use and application, Novak countered modern misconceptions of social justice (e.g. as another word for equality), and sought to outline a definition that’s (1) connected to the original understanding, (2) ideologically neutral, and (3) applicable to current circumstances.

Leaning first on Pope Leo XIII for an original understanding, he proceeded to channel Alexis de Tocqueville, describing social justice in terms of our activity in basic, day-to-day associations. This begins with religion, of course, which “dominates our hearts,” he said, without the support of the state, and in turn, transforms our orientations and imaginations toward citizens, institutions, and law. With this as the basic order of things, social justice begins when the individual rightly understands his relation to God, and proceeds to engage with civilization accordingly. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
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acton-commentary-blogimage“Three recent events have made me reflect on a certain theme that should be of interest to religious-minded advocates of the free society,” says Kishore Jayabalan in this week’s Acton Commentary.

The three events were: 1) an interview I gave to an Italian online publication in response to a French professor who claims that capitalism is the root cause of gender theory and other cultural and social revolutions associated with liberalism; 2) a talk given by a German professor on “liberalism as an attitude” at the European Students for Liberty conference in Berlin last month; and 3) the controversy caused by the upcoming papal encyclical on human ecology.

Now, I realize that the term “liberal” can mean many things, but let’s assume that it describes those who, when considering political, social and economic questions, give greater priority to individual freedom than to other goods such as equality, tradition or order. Liberty need not be the only consideration, but it tends to be the dominant one. There are right-wing, moderate and left-wing liberals who disagree on different issues and may prefer another good in a particular instance but none of them question the good of liberty as such.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Me tshirtIn the U.S., about half of adults live alone. Somewhere around 43 percent of kids in America are only children. In the past 50 years, the number of children living with only one parent has almost doubled. We are, in the words of Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, living in a “de-familied” society.

Just prior to the current Pontifical Council for the Family, Archishop Paglia (who heads that Council) spoke to the National Catholic Register about issues he hoped would be addressed by the bishops at the council. The archbishop spoke of a major shift in our society’s manner of thinking, calling it a “delirium of omnipotence:”

Indeed it as is, today, homo homini Deus (Man is God for man). Now, this is the fundamental knot. Why? Because from this tearing apart and arbitrary rebuilding we are going towards a society “de-familied” and therefore weaker and less solid. [The theologian Richard] Baumann would say liquid. In this context, the one who wins is not “us,” but “I.”

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