Under His eye or The Harrowing of Farron

On Facebook, I ran across a couple of Christian responses to the recent resignation of Tim “Nice-but-Evangelical” Farron as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

A worrying sign

A post by John Stevens, Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, argues that Farron’s resignation is a worrying sign: Farron’s actions as a friend to LGBT people were not sufficient, people were worried about “what Tim thinks” and wouldn’t leave him alone about it.

As Nick Spencer writes, there are two sorts of liberalism. Farron was an example of liberalism as a way of living (or modus vivendi, as we say in the New Statesman) in a pluralist society, but fell victim to people who saw liberalism as a system which itself provides the right answers to moral questions. But taking liberalism as such as system, as Stevens says, opens its followers to the same sorts of criticism that Farron got: can a follower of a system fairly represent the interests of those who disagree with it?

(Unfortunately, Stevens does get dangerously close to using the phrase “virtue signalling”, which should worry him, for is it not written whosoever shall say to his brother, “thou art virtue signalling”, shall be in danger of being a huge arsehole, and that goes double for “snowflake”.?)

The burning of Latimer and Ridley at OxfordStevens has an interesting argument for liberalism as a way of living: if idolatry is the greatest sin, yet Christians do not want religion imposed by the government as this has historically not ended well (pic related), how much more so (or a fortiori, as we probably say in the New Statesman) ought Christians to allow freedom in law for people to commit lesser sins?

Public reason

With his mention of a “substantive, even comprehensive” liberalism, Nick Spencer in the New Stateman is gesturing at Rawl’s ideas of public reason. From what I read of this, a liberalism which is what Rawls calls a comprehensive doctrine can’t legitimately be the sole basis for arguments in favour of a fundamental right (such as gay marriage), any more than the religious comprehensive system can be the sole basis for an argument against. As Mariel Johns’s summary puts it,

It is important to remember that secular comprehensive doctrines are not allowed – the same way that philosophical and religious comprehensive doctrines are not allowed. These fall outside the domain of the political. This can be seen if we consider what each type of doctrine might ask with regard to making homosexual relations among citizens a criminal offense. A secular doctrine might ask, “Is it precluded by a worthy idea of the full human good?” A religious doctrine might ask, “Is it a sin?” A political conception would ask, “Will legislative statues forbidding those relations infringe on the civil rights of free and equal democratic citizens?”

I’m not an expert in political philosophy, but this seems to get something important right, namely that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. “What Tim thinks” can only be of political concern if we’re reasoning from a comprehensive doctrine which says our thoughts can be wrong in and of themselves (such as Christianity, or liberalism of the second sort), or if we can show that what he thinks is somehow relevant in reasoning which is not unique to any such doctrine. Only the latter is legitimate, if I’m reading Rawls right.

So, what should Farron have said? Perhaps “What I think is What The Bible Says1, but look at my voting record and see that I don’t seek to impose my views on others, because (insert Stevens’s a fortiori argument here)”. Note that Rawls doesn’t think people cannot bring forward religious reasons (in fact, he thinks they should, in a “cards on the table” sort of way), only that they should then be backed by public reasons (such as “enforcing religion infringes on the civil rights of citizens”, presumably).

This is easy to say in hindsight, of course.


G J Shearer writes that “Arguing that Christians shouldn’t ‘impose’ their views on society is simply a tacit way of saying that someone else should.” But this ignores the distinction between liberalism of the first, Rawlsian, sort, and liberalism of the second, comprehensive, sort. Perhaps Shearer thinks that such a distinction can’t be maintained, and everything must collapse into a fight between competing comprehensive doctrines. But why think that? It seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy: if nobody makes the effort to maintain it, it certainly won’t be maintained. Farron’s pursuers harmed our political life by making it harder to maintain it.

Shearer argues that secular liberalism is illogical:

What, in effect, is the logic of secular liberalism? We live in a world heading towards extinction, our consciousness created by blind physical laws and driven by a ruthless will to reproduce and survive, therefore… What? Love each other? Look after the poor, the lame, the vulnerable? A moment’s consideration shows that these conclusions do not flow from the premise.

Hume lives! But his guillotine is a multi-purpose tool (it slices! it dices! it cuts both ways!). Suppose the facts are these: we live in a world ruled by an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent creator, therefore… what? What conclusions about morality follow from these premises? You need to add some other premise (like “we ought to do what God wants/commands of us”), and if you need that, why fault secular philosophers for needing to add theirs (like “we ought to do that which leads to human flourishing” or “the greatest good of the greatest number” or whatever)? All moral systems, including theistic ones, are “illogical” by these lights.

He also wonders whether atheist politicians could explain how “their belief that human life is merely ‘an accidental collocation of atoms’, to use Bertrand Russell’s phrase, fits with the various moral imperatives that drive their politics”. Probably not, because politicians, unlike Hume, are generally crap at philosophy. But, as we’ve just seen, Shearer hasn’t explained why his premises about God lead to his moral conclusions, either.

Offred from a Handmaid's Tale, with the caption "But her emails"Shearer ends with a call to Christians to get more involved getting Christian values into law: “it is time that Christians began to unapologetically argue that society is best served by Christian, rather than secular, values shaping the public sphere.” This doesn’t seem likely to end any better than it did historically (pic related).

  1. This is an evangelical term of art, so should be taken with the usual caveat 

Link blog: politics, saudi-arabia, islam, wahhabi

Trading with tyranny. The price of snuggling up to Saudi Arabia
“Britain and many other countries are already paying a substantial price for Saudi Arabia’s efforts (over many years) to spread its pernicious Wahhabi ideology far and wide. A more robust stance against that now will mean less need to spend money on security and defence measures in the future.”
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The Utopian · Paris, 2015
“Down with Putin. Down with the Patriarch. Down with the Pope. Down with the self-styled progressives who have abandoned the liberatory spirit of 1968 in favor of the regulatory spirit of identitarianism.”
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Louise Mensch says ‘F**K YOU’ in explosive tweets about David Cameron, Saudi Embassy and the Queen over King Abdullah tributes – People – News – The Independent
You go, girl!
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Link blog: charlie-hebdo, islam, islamism, culture

Charlie Hebdo victim was ‘a friend of Islam, Turkey’ – INTERNATIONAL
“Voicing his ‘fear,’ Hürriyet columnist Ertuğrul Özkök writes about a chat he once had with Georges Wolinski, who was killed in the attack at the offices of the French satirical magazine.”
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Kenan Malik: “The expressions of solidarity with those slain in the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices are impressive. They are also too late. Had journalists and artists and political activists taken a more robust view on free speech over the past 20 years then we may never have come to this.”
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Paris attacks: unless we overcome fear, self-censorship will spread| Nick Cohen | Comment is free | The Observer
Cohen argues that Western journalists had already given in. “My friend and comrade Maajid Nawaz was a jihadi before he converted to liberalism and understands the totalitarian mind. He says that people still do not realise that radical Islamists do not just want to impose their taboos at gunpoint. They want to “create a civil war” so that European Muslims accept that they can only live in the caliphate; to encourage the rise of the white far-right so that ordinary coexistence becomes impossible. If they win one demand, as they are winning in Britain, then they will up the tension and move to another.”
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The cult of death and the psychopaths it ensnares – Telegraph
“Islamist terrorists believe they are a pure elite, destined to survive the cataclysmic conflict of civilisations they desire to bring about. That is why Isil’s magazine is called “Dabiq” or Ark. Ideally, as the Egyptian president has courageously commented, they would like to witness an all-out war between 1.6 billion Muslims and the other six billion inhabitants of our planet, but for the time being they’ll just be the vanguard of it.”
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dear US followers
“NO ONE, I repeat literally NO ONE in France ever considered Charlie Hebdo as racist. We might have considered the drawings tasteless, but NOT racists. For the very simple reason that WE FUCKING KNOW OUR POLITICS. So, when you see the covers of the journal out of context and without understanding french, you’re seeing maybe 10% of what there’s to see.”
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