The Leak in the Tires of Classical Liberalism

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Jeffery Ventrella recently put a lot of hay on his fork as he undertook to deal with a recent outbreak of some Bronze Age buffoonery. He covered quite a lot of territory, a lot more than I can respond to here, but I do need to respond to the central part where he tangled with something I recently tweeted. I will get to that shortly.

The rest of his article is something of a jumbled dessert trifle, with footnotes playing the role of the sponge cake. The article really was an odd mix—upbraiding the Bronze Bros for some of their juvenescent interests, trying to state his agreements with Christian Nationalism in a way that somehow came across like disagreements, urging us all to eschew pugnacity in debate, a standard which clearly has some limits if this article was anything to go by, and, getting to the point of this my rejoinder, a complete failure to recognize my point.

Before getting into all that, I do want to say at the outset that I do not really understand why I am in a debate with something posted on TruthXChange, a good operation with good people, and I do wish that I were not in this position. I agreed with a bunch of what was said, thought that some of it was above the belt disagreement, considered that other parts I disagreed with were really an unnecessary disagreement, and believed that the impact of the article as a whole was simply confused.

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Some Essential Background

As many of you know, I will be speaking at the NatCon conference in early July, along with Al Mohler. At this same conference, a Hindu speaker representing a Hindu nationalist movement (RSS) will also be speaking. Mohler and I were both assailed on Twitter for “sharing the stage” with such a Hindu. The invited speakers are from all over the worldview landscape, with whatever commonality there may be presumably to be found in hostility to the woke business, and the somewhat populist nature of their varied constituencies.

As the NatCon organizers in no way put any limitations on what I could or would say at the conference, I of course have no problem attending. I have something I want to say to the people who will be there. At the same time, of course, I did respond in the online back-and-forth that I find Hindu persecution of Christians to be reprehensible. It really is, and I am willing to say how reprehensible it is wherever I am.

But that was not good enough for one particular critic, which led to my sending out the Tweet that Jeffery Ventrella then cited in his article. Here it is, with some immediate context.

His answer was no, he was not in, which was the response I anticipated. And my anticipation of that particular response was why I raised the question.

And so what was the point? The point was to reveal that my critics on this issue were objecting to me sharing a stage with a man that they wouldn’t mind putting on the ballot so that they might wind up governed by him. Please remember that I have shared many platforms with men I debated who rejected Christ, and I have also been governed by men who hate Christ. And let me tell you, the latter situation is far, far worse.

In short, I was being attacked for my willingness to talk to a Hindu by someone who is willing to be governed by a Hindu.

So no, I am not wedded to a generic “religious nationalism,” as though any religious identity will do, so long as it is popular enough, according to country. I don’t want America to return to being a Christian nation because it is part of our national DNA. It is part of our DNA, but that is not why we should do it. We should do it because Jesus rose from the dead, and because the Ancient of Days gave Him universal dominion. We should do it because Christianity is the true religion. And precisely because Jesus rose from the dead, this means that nations with a Christian legacy should return to it, and nations with a Hindu legacy should turn from it, and come to Christ.

Extraordinarily Sloppy

Needless to say, Jeffery Ventrella’s treatment of my position on all of this was extraordinarily sloppy. He treated my tweet as though it were “click-baiting,” when what I was actually doing was responding to a slanderous attack—one that alleged I was good with Hindu persecution of Christians. I responded to this slanderous attack with a simple question, a question that demonstrated how intellectually incoherent the whole thing was.

In addition, Ventrella wrote as though I were wanting to take liberty of conscience away from Hindus, when I have written a book, Mere Christendom that strongly defends the Christian doctrine of liberty of conscience—Hindus included. The arguments I presented in this book are scarcely a secret, but the fact they were published out in the open did not prevent them from being entirely ignored. I want Hindus to be able to think their Hindu thoughts freely, without fear of persecution. But I do not want them to govern a Christian people in terms of those Hindu thoughts. Liberty of conscience and the necessary theological foundations of law are distinct issues. They are not addressing the same thing.

So it is true that I argue that a genuine classical liberal order requires a Christian foundation, but this should not have drawn Ventrella’s ire because he is part of a movement that argues for exactly same thing (see below).

But this was his dismissal of my position.

“Now we see leading public intellectuals ‘on board’ with using the State’s power to constrict public involvement based on religious conviction—note—this measure does not seek to restrict Hindu politicians from enacting Hindu particulars like the caste system or Sati (widow burning)—what we might call religious exercise—which should, like Molech child sacrifice, be proscribed. This proposal rests political disqualification upon one’s status of being a Hindu. This click-baiting tweet is littered with defects.” 

The Bold Pagan Buffoonery . . .

But notice what this amounts to. We can have Hindu rulers, with the proviso that they agree beforehand never to act like Hindus. In other words, we can have nominal Hindu rulers, provided they register their commitment to classical liberalism. Okay, but classical liberalism is the cultural fruit of Christianity—a point I know Ventrella agrees with.

This means that Ventrella is willing to require Hindus to subscribe to second-order Christian beliefs in order hold office, but thinks it outrageous when I wish them to subscribe to first order Christian beliefs. It is as though I wanted Hindus to confess that Jesus rose from the dead, and Ventrella objects to this as an outrageous imposition . . . while he wants them to confess that immersion is the only proper mode of baptism.

He also said this:

“Implementing this proposal would at the very least require reconfiguring vast swathes of American constitutionalism. As to holding federal office, the Constitution expressly rejects religious tests . . .”

The Bold Pagan Buffoonery . . .

Of course the Constitution rejects religious tests for federal office. In the Founding, the religious tests were applied at the state and local levels. They were legal at the local level, they were constitutional at the local level, and they were commonplace at the local level. That was the America of the Founding. It is telling when someone wants to return to the way things were done at the Founding, only to find himself accused of betraying the genius of the Founding. But Earl Warren and James Madison are not the same guy.

He says that my proposal would “require reconfiguring vast swathes of American constitutionalism.” Okay, but our contention is that vast swathes of American constitutionalism have already been reconfigured by the progressive left, and we would like to put things back the way they were.

Call it a re-reconfiguring.

So Which Is It?

I am currently working through a book called Virtuous Liberty, and it has a lot of good stuff in it, with which I am in hearty agreement. But it is also kind of jumbled, in ways similar to how this article was jumbled. There is some true confusion right at the heart of it.

Consider some of the following, taken from some of the early pages of the book. Remember that this is a book in which Jeffery Ventrella served as a contributor.

“Liberty has not subsisted outside of Christianity” (Lord Acton, frontispiece). The Founding had an “indisputably Protestant distinctive” (p. xix). “After all, this book isn’t about virtuous liberty in the abstract, but about how consistent biblical Christianity founds and funds the virtuous liberty society” (p. xxiii). “John Adams grasped this truth with great clarity when he wrote on the virtual eve of the War for Independence (June 21, 1776): ‘Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand” (p. xxv). ” . . . the constitutional protection of the rights of minorities—all these were bequeathed to the modern world by Christianity. Later chapters will elaborate on these distinctives” (p, xxvii).

Yes, agreed. A hundred amens to all of that. Christianity did do all of that. Some of us would like to do it again. Why is that such a problem?