“Classical liberalism, for all its limitations, was at least committed to defending individual freedom against the encroachments of state power. That is, after all, why it was called liberalism, which comes from the word liberty. [By contrast] contemporary liberals often have no qualms when it comes to limiting the free exchange of ideas – something that would have been anathema to earlier liberals like John Locke, John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith.”
The non sequitur move from “X is wrong” to “X should be illegal” usually hinges on the implicit notion that it is the State’s job to redesign society from the top down, and that in a free society no one should have the freedom to be bad. However, this is a questionable assumption at best.
All property rights assume, at some level, that the law should give us a certain degree of freedom to be bad. Your body is your property, your thoughts are your property, your earned possessions are your property and your business is your property. To coerce someone under threat of violence to use their own property in a way he or she does not want to is a violation of the basic principle of freedom.
Similarly, to argue that anyone has a “right” to property that is not his, whether it be someone else’s body, money, business or thoughts, is antithetical to the principles of a free society…. the cost of freedom is that people will behave in ways you may not always agree with. Put simply, in a free society people should have the freedom to be bad. This perspective is lost once we start to view the State as a nanny tasked with the vocation of making us good – a viewpoint which lurks implicitly behind much of the recent anti-discrimination policies.
Postmodernism has brought us to a position where many academics truly believe that the meaning of a text remains completely inaccessible to the reader. Literary criticism is thus plunged into an abyss of relativity since, to quote again from Abrams, “the meaning of any text remains radically ‘open’ to contradictory readings.”
Not only does it become impossible ever to know what the author truly meant, but it becomes presumptuous even to try. Even in those cases where the author has clearly explained his meaning, we cannot bridge the inaccessible chasm between his mind and ours. All we find is isolated words that echo back to us our own stories, like someone projecting his own emotions onto Mona Lisa’s smile.
To cultivate learning without cultivating the imagination is to create automatons, for it is through the imagination that we are able to make connections, to form associations, to conceptualize long-term consequences, and to see the infrastructures of meaning beneath the surface of things. The poetry of life, and the sense of wonder that keeps the imagination vivid, fresh, and restless, is anathema to prosaic utopians who aim to convince citizens that there is nothing beyond this life to live for. That is why the capacity to imagine has been the enemy of totalitarian regimes throughout history. In order for collectivist and totalitarian regimes to work, the first books to go must be those that have no obvious functional value in a work-based economy but that feed one’s imagination and sense of wonder.
Over a decade ago when I was struggling with parenting issues, I wrote to a well-known author for advice on certain abstract and theoretical questions about the theology of parenting. The author’s secretary wrote back to me with advice that annoyed me at first because it didn’t address my specific questions. However, what he did say turned out to be exactly what I needed to hear, and it is advice that I keep coming back to over and over again.
He said to think of parenting teenagers like tending a garden. If you are a gardener, the goal is not necessarily to have a weed-free garden but to have healthy plants. Sometimes the way to achieve healthy plants is to weed the garden, but it is sometimes also necessary to focus on strengthening the plant before you attack the weed. For example, a particularly delicate plant might not be strong enough to withstand the gardener vigorously attacking the nearby weed, especially if the weed has deep roots nearby the plant itself. In such cases, the gardener needs to focus on nourishing the plant so that it will become strong enough to withstand an attack on the weed. In some cases we need to step back and simply let the plant become strong enough to deal with the weed on its own.
As with gardening, so with parenting. When parenting teenagers, our goal is to have spiritual healthy men and women who will multiply the love Jesus in the earth long after we are gone. In order to be instruments in facilitating this, it is sometimes necessary for us to ignore the weeds of character to focus on strengthening the plant of the soul. This liberates a parent to take a positive approach with his or her teen instead of being overly-negative. It means learning to strategically ignore certain problems for the sake of the teenager’s overall flourishing, just as we might ignore a weed to focus on strengthening the plant.
In my Canterbury Letters, I interacted with a Calvinist who believed that icons were idolatrous, especially when used in worship. During the process of this dialogue I responded to the iconoclastic arguments of James Jordan that he put forward in his little polemic The Liturgy Trap. Here is what I wrote about the legitimacy of images in worship:
“Our apologetics must not be merely intellectual, occupied with the Big Questions of the universe and its origins. We must also engage in “cultural apologetics”, working to transform the rhythms and practices of our culture, not least the culture of our Christian communities and churches, to reflect the beauty and desirability of Christ. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once noted, “In vain does one repeat what the heart does not find sweet.” It is not good enough simply to prove to someone that Christianity is true; if we are to have an impact for Christ we must also show that the faith is sweet, that Christianity is not only true, but lovely and desirable.”
“…as new hand-held devices have enabled the internet to become ubiquitous and seamlessly integrated into normal life, what we find is that ordinary life is becoming stamped with the imprint of our online habits. All social activity is starting to take on the set of assumptions and expectations appropriate to our digital addictions. In short, real life is becoming an adjunct of the cyber world.”
“Overemphasizing the noetic effects of sin and underestimating the reality of common grace has enormous ramifications in how we approach pagan literature. When we come to a text like Homer’s Iliad, or the plays of Sophocles, is our knee-jerk instinct to assume these texts have nothing valuable to teach us regarding human nature and God’s world? If so, we will conceive our task primarily to unearth worldview deficiencies in these writers: to attack, criticize and condemn.
But if, on the other hand, we recognize that the ordering of reality has left the imprint of a divine grammar that even pagans cannot help but recognize, then we will come at these texts expecting to find additional confirmation of the inherent logic of creation – a logic which not even human sin can fully eradicate.”
Last night I listened to this fascinating debate about justification by Tom Wright and James White. They discuss the ‘New Perspective on Paul’ and the role of synergy in salvation. What came across was N.T. Wright’s faithfulness to scripture vs. James White’s faithfulness to a tradition, as well as White’s willingness to interpret the scripture in light of pastoral concerns, which is a very slippery approach – i.e., “my interpretation will generate these pragmatic results, therefore my interpretation must be correct.”. (In fairness to White, that wasn’t his only argument though, although it was an undercurrent to everything he said. I agree with Wright that you should not allow pragmatic pastoral concerns to drive your verse by verse exegesis.) Because Tom Wright is trying to stick so closely to scripture he can be unsystematic at times (by modern Western standards) rather like Saint Paul. Altogether this was a very enjoyable conversation to listen to between two very smart and Biblically-informed gentlemen.