People are either committed to God as the ultimate good or they are committed to something else as the ultimate good. People are either worshippers of the true God or they are idolaters.
This question cannot be treated as an optional extra, because it is fundamental to the self-understanding of human persons both as individuals and in society. Closed liberalism depends upon the Enlightenment idea of autono- mous reason. The idea of autonomous reason posits that it is possible to conduct discourse on the basis of a universal rationality which is separate from discourse informed by religious reasons.
A DIALOGUE WITH OLIVER O'DONOVAN ABOUT CHURCH AND GOVERNMENT
Religious reasons represent a partial, and therefore, inferior form of discourse because they are put forward on grounds which are not shared by others in the political arena. At its most extreme, therefore, closed liberalism seeks to exclude such religious reasons from political life.
Even where such reasons are permit- ted to be heard, however, closed liberalism demands that they be clearly flagged in order to downgrade them in the weight attributed to them in political debate. However, Milbank points out, despite the denial of substantive norms by secularism and liberalism, norms have to be recognized. Education…reveals the concealed public dimension of political life which even liberalism cannot suppress; in deciding what to teach, what to pass on, any society expresses its view about what is really self-fulfilling, even if it is confined, as with liberalism, to saying that the only goal is self-fulfilment.
Augustine, De Vera Religione Oxford: Oxford University Press, , Understandings of nature other than as creation, or of creation without reference to Christ, are distortions or incomplete visions of the truth. A secularist society is focused on earthly goods to the exclusion of the heavenly good of knowing God. In the flattened perspective of closed liberalism, God or religion is not denied as a good but the claim that God is the supreme good is rejected.
Leicester, UK: Apollos, Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, ; original emphasis. Goudzwaard, Idols of our Time, Closed liberalism understands itself to be neutral between competing conceptions of the good life, allowing the citizens of the agnostic liberal polity to choose to pursue the optional good of religion or to decline to do so, as they see fit.
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The two insights are complemen- tary, and provide a framework for explaining how political authority can be understood as both idolatrous and yet also a blessing. He taught that evil has no independent status; it is always parasitic on the good. What renders closed liberalism idolatrous is not that the ends it pursues are not genuine goods. What renders closed liberalism idolatrous is that these genuine goods are sought without reference to God.
In so far as a government pursues a policy of closed liberalism, Augustine, Handbook on Faith, Hope and Love, ch. III, para. For Milbank, the continued existence of human community and politi- cal authority is a matter of ontology. The corol- lary of this affirmation is the recognition that evil is parasitic, it is non-being, it can only ever be a distortion or a deprivation of the good. Political authorities have to keep the peace as they regulate the disor- dered and competing pursuit of goods by human beings within their ter- ritories.
They therefore moderate what Hobbes feared would be the even more violent and disorderly competition for goods which would occur in the absence of effective political authority. One of the dangers of political authority is, however, that it replicates that violence and competition on a larger scale.
Nonetheless, because and insofar as the lesser goods which political authorities protect truly are goods, those goods provide a measure of comfort and satisfaction. Because and insofar as these lesser goods are created goods, the Church has something important to say about their nature. Because these lesser goods are only finite goods, the comfort and satisfaction which they provide is always incomplete.
The mistake which human beings make is an excessive attachment to limited, finite goods. It is a displacement of our supreme love away from God who alone is worthy of it and towards a lesser good. Milbank, C.
Pickstock and G. Milbank, The Suspended Middle, There is, perhaps, potential for developing an understanding of the right enjoy- ment of finite goods as worship, to be distinguished from the disordered enjoyment of finite goods which is idolatry. These God-given, transcendental categories34 represent inescapable norms. Political authority, of whatever hue, is constrained to present itself as approximating or embodying good- ness, truth, justice and love.
The practical content of this interim common grace is the political act, …government-as-judgment. In his idea of the By this I do not mean that they have the nature of Platonic forms, or that they have any independent existence other than as defined by and in relation to Christ. Rather, I follow Stephen R. Thus, a scientist who is a committed atheist will be bound to interpret scientific data in an atheistic manner. However, Kuyper did not react to the arts in the same way that he responded to the challenge of secular and anti-Christian scientific theories.
Human nature, once good, had not become absolutely or essentially bad as a result of the fall, even though every part of it had become corrupt—that is, warped, twisted, and misdirected. Culture, therefore, was not inherently evil but was per- verted good, and the solution to the problem of Christianity and culture was not withdrawal from fallen creation in anticipation of the coming of a new order in the future, but a radical conversation and renewal of that creation in the present. Human political authorities are agents used by the triune God for the purposes of common grace and given coercive powers in order to do so.
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The Church is an agent of sanctifying grace, whose call is to witness to the love of God the Father, the work of God the Son and to offer the invitation which the Holy Spirit makes to repentance, faith and a new life in Christ. Human politics is limited because political power is not the agent of salvation or sanctification, it is not the deliverer from all evil. What politi- cal authority does achieve, in however distorted and imperfect a fashion, is to allow for the preservation of genuine human goods.
This preservation Heslam, Creating a Christian Worldview, Closed liberalism misunderstands the nature of the political task because of its commitment to secularism. Secularism arises when the idea of the saeculum is lost. It arises when the notion of the saeculum, a time when God waits for us, is parodied in the conception of a secular space in which we are free to ignore God.
They do not represent the arrival of the new age and the rule of God… [T]hey are not agents of Christ, but are marked for displacement when the rule of God in Christ is finally disclosed.
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The ambiguities between good and evil which characterize the present age are the product of the fact that God has allotted each one of us time on this earth. This time is an opportunity for repentance, for faith and for obedience. Such a church, engaged in hopeful but constant mission, will recognize the fragility and complexity of its own commu- nity, the extent to which it falls short of its Lord, and will be best placed to recognize the good and evil which occurs both within and beyond its Bartholomew et al.
Carlisle: Paternoster Press, , Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 11, 24, 26, In this way, the hubris of Christendom can be avoided and the limits of the secular polis acknowledged. Re-envisioning Political Liberalism as Political Limitism Although it has been argued above that political authority is subject to ontological constraints and that it can be used by God to provide a time, a saeculum, in which people can choose the supreme good, not all political authorities are equally good.
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