28 August 2014

Two or So Contrasting Views of Christians and Contemporary Society

While not diametrically opposed, Daniel Golebiewski's essay, "Christian Traditional Values Prefiguring the Development of Human Rights" (download here) and Lue Yee Tsang's blog post "Eliot and Benedictine Renewal" (link here) take radically different approaches to the political implications of the Christian faith in the contemporary world.

I had hoped after reading the abstract of Golebiewski's essay that he would further the arguments I had made in my symposium article, Looking for Bedrock: Accounting for Human Rights in Classical Liberalism, Modern Secularism, and the Christian Tradition (download here). To my regret, I was disappointed. Instead of a careful historical examination or theological justification for modern human rights, Golebiewski does little more than cut and paste a number of selections from contemporary Catholic "social justice" thinkers. It's not so much that he's wrong but that he doesn't interact seriously with the critiques I and many others have made of contemporary human rights theory and practice.

Tsang's post, by contrast, springs from a thoughtful comparison of two significant thinkers. On the one hand, Tsang takes up the challenge of of Alasdair MacIntyre's suggestion that an appropriate response by Christians to an increasingly antagonistic secularist-dominated world is a new monasticism inspired by the model of Saint Benedict. On the other hand, Tsang posits T.S. Eliot's book published in 1940, "The Idea of a Christian Society," as an alternative approach in which only a state characterized by a tolerant Protestant established Church can assure all citizens of their human rights. According to Eliot, classical Enlightenment Liberalism would not, in the long run, be able to sustain itself.

So, indeed, seems to be the case a few dissenting SCOTUS decisions not to the contrary. Eliot was prescient; classical Liberalism has been swallowed by a Progressivism that is less and less content not to foist its agenda of sexual (and economic) autonomy on all inhabitants of its polity. (Earlier thoughts herehere, and here.) Shall we escape to MacIntryre's neo-Benedictine monastery? Why would anyone expect the corrosive power of autonomy to stop at the monastery walls? And what of Golebiewski's sentimentalistic account of human rights? Are rights grounded in the vacuous notion of social justice adequate to protect those who seek to live life coram deo? Hardly.

But all need not be lost. Following the insights of English Church reformer Thomas Cranmer, Tsang proposes an inversion of MacIntryre's approach: "Thomas Cranmer’s reform of the Daily Office of prayers turned the monastery inside out. As monks became secular divines serving the Church of England’s parishes and dioceses, they took Benedictine spirituality to the layman." In other words, the Church became the church and so influenced society and culture.

(For another thoughtful disquisition on the subject read Peter Augustine Lawler's piece What Is American Conservatism here.)

I have only touched the surface of Tsang's observations (and have ignored Lawler's altogether) and suggestions so I strongly urge folks to read his piece; it is very helpful

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