Is freedom different for Christians and liberals?

Men, dressed as women, read stories to children in a Sacramento public library, prompting a debate among American conservatives.

This debate was interesting as it did not concern the presidential candidates of Donald Trump and Joe Biden, but rather focused on whether Christianity and liberal democracy are compatible.

Adrian Vermeule, a leading scholar, says they are not. The Harvard professor of constitutional law states that Christians and liberals simply define freedom differently. Because of this, long-term reconciliation between Christian and the liberal approaches to the State is impossible.

The professor maintains that liberalism is based on the idea that everyone can freely decide to lead the kind of life they see fit, regardless of whether this life is objectively good.

In this case, freedom becomes an idol, which demands its followers to remove limits – such as the moral commandments of Christianity – from public life.

According to Vermeule this approach is what has led to the liberalisation of abortion, same sex marriage becoming the law of the land and allowing sexualised drag queens near young children, under the veil of neutrality.

By contrast, the Christian view says that freedom cannot be separated from the truth.

We cannot define basic concepts such as the universe, reason, or the human life based on our feelings.

Illiberals often quote Aristotle and Pope Leo XIII, while also casting hopeful eyes on the political systems of Hungary and Poland.

They advocate for society’s need for a common vision about what ‘good’ means. They believe that even the originalist interpretation of the American constitution is no longer sufficient, as it does not prioritise the common good.

But what do they mean by common good?

It involves peace, justice and security. The common good would be built upon the reasonable nature of human beings and what will lead to flourishing of the community. If they live virtuously, society’s members will be happy.

But illiberals consider not only the natural, but also the supernatural order to be important, thus they believe that the State needs to cooperate with the Church. Religion is not just a private matter, but also a public one.

The State’s primary task is not the protection of individual rights, but to guide society towards the common good in which individual rights are already integrated. Its tools are a strong executive power, effective legislature and consistent education policy.

However, other Christians, David French for example, think that Christians should not attack, but defend liberal democracy.

Perhaps their strongest argument is that Christianity and liberalism are compatible, because in a liberal democracy Christians have the right to freedom of speech and they can freely practise their religion as well.

Liberal conservatives approach strong state power with caution, so they often refer to Locke and sometimes to Mill.

They do not dispute that the rules of such a system can enable a country to sink into religious indifference or moral relativism, but they instead argue that it is equally possible for Christianity to flourish in a liberal democracy.

French views it as a sacrilege when illiberals criticise the American constitution from the Right. He thinks that will only push tensions to a breaking point in a deeply divided nation, aiding only extremists. The author is convinced that liberalism protects society from civil war.

Knowing which position is correct is complex. However, it is clear that freedom must not be without limits – anarchy is not the answer.

Click here to watch Norbert discuss this on Axioma’s Youtube channel.

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