Recently I was asked why I refer to secular and theological liberals as progressives and neo-Protestants. It’s a matter of manners. As a wee boy I was brought up always to be polite, especially to those less fortunate than myself.
Those usually referred to as liberals today have little connection with a liberal outlook. Classical liberalism was a positive outlook on life which saw humankind developing under the careful tutelage of reason. The essential equality of all was assumed, as was the premise that we move forward together as a society on the basis of a moral framework. At the heart of the movement which helped bring us liberty and democracy was the recognition that it was a moral movement operating within moral parameters. There was a basic unquestioned premise that there was a recognisable right and wrong and that as individuals and society the former should be pursued and the latter shunned. Individuals and society moved forward together.
Today’s secular progressives believe instead that the fulfilment of the desires of the individual is paramount and that the individual has the right to make up his or her own mind as to what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for him. Morality is privitised. This has resulted in the progressives taking liberty, one of the central planks of liberalism, and turning it into licence. Freedom without the constraint of virtue results in nihilism.
The theological progressive, and I am mainly concerned with Protestants because I am one, wants to remake the Christian faith into something new. Progressives don’t demand much in the way of actual belief. They hold to indiscriminate baptism, homosexual ministers, girl bishops and praying alongside Muslims, these are the things which really matter. Oh, they also believe in the Ten Commandments, or “Moses discussion starters” as they think of them, as long as you understand that they are not “carved in stone.”
The Reformed faith has, amongst its saner elements, always seen the need for continual reformation. This continual reformation is to be on the basis of the revealed Word of God. As Calvin put it the Bible is the spectacles through which we can interpret the world aright. The progressive wishes to reverse this, for him the world is the norm through whcih we interpret the Scriptures. When the desires of the individual conflict with Scripture then Scripture must bow. This entails the creation of something radically different from what has gone before. That is why I refer to neo-Protestantism.
It would appear that I am an old-fashioned Scots Presbyterian Whig. Not a Tory intent upon supporting entrenched privilege. Not a Jacobin hoping to overthrow all that has gone before. Rather, because I believe in the God of the Bible, an actual liberal who cares deeply about the free development of humanity and the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.
If Iwere to be pointed I wouldn’t refer to them using their own terminology of ‘progressives’ or the relatively polite neo-Protestants but as Jacobins, people intent on recasting society and beginning again at Day One. But then, I was brought up to be polite.