Liberalism claims to rest on reason alone and not on any disputable metaphysical or historical claim. It poses as a neutral arbiter between rival comprehensive ethical systems. Because it is not one of them, it can claim rightful authority over all of them–and without even being required to argue the truth of its beliefs against that of its rivals. It has no disputable beliefs. It has no rivals. To maintain this pretense, it is insufficient to claim that the reasoning of nonliberals is flawed or based on dubious premises; liberals must claim that nonliberals have no reasons at all, that what appear to be reasons are in fact expressions of subrational animus. Hence the hierophants of the Supreme Court could find same-sex marriage in the Constitution because they could assert it as certain that rivals to liberalism (e.g. proponents of normative gender roles) act only out of ignorance, hatred, or insanity. The Court does not inject itself into a debate. Debates require two reasoning sides, and the liberal knows a priori that he has a monopoly on reason.
Maintaining this illusion requires an ever-more-thorough ignorance of the past and of other civilizations. Thus, the list of “offensive” books from which students must be shielded rapidly grows. It would be wrong to see in this a character flaw inherent in liberals. Liberals are no more innately lacking in curiosity and open-mindedness than anyone else. It is liberalism itself that demands such an attitude of militant stupidity.
With this contrast in mind, one can appreciate the importance of the Christian taking his beliefs on faith. To claim that something is a matter of faith is to acknowledge that doubt is reasonable. Of course, Christians are told to be ready to give reasons for their faith. There are arguments in favor of Christianity, and naturally the Christian thinks them superior to their contraries, but these reasons do not add up to a proof. Christians have reasons, but they don’t claim a monopoly on reasons. Rival faiths have reasons too. Christianity is reasonable, but it is not certain. Faith is a personal matter in a sense that the acknowledgement of a proof is not. One must decide which reasons, which insights, seem more cogent, and in this decision one’s personality cannot entirely recede into the background.
In fact, everyone is forced to proceed on faith. Mathematical certainty is not to be had in this life outside of mathematics. The difference is that the Christian is forced to be conscious of his act of faith. His faith is a gift. If certainty could be had, there would be no need for a supernatural gift of faith. It is not religion but liberalism that manifests a discomfort with doubt, discomfort to the extent that the liberal must shield himself from acknowledging the questionability of his beliefs.
How could there have been an “Age of Faith”? What could have kept men so honest with themselves for so long? We moderns find our doubts so difficult to bear. Why didn’t medieval Europeans do what we have done and declare their religion not a faith but a certainty? In fact, I suspect that this discomfort with doubt (for which scientism claims to be the cure although it is actually a symptom) is actually not a universal human trait. Generally speaking, humans aren’t troubled by the thought that their beliefs, even foundational ones, might be wrong. So long as beliefs are socially promoted, the possibility of error feels academic. What we face today in an age of hegemonic liberalism is the difficulty of people struggling to privately maintain belief in a religion or other comprehensive ethical system which receives no public sanction, to maintain belief when the price of participation in the public sphere is acting as if that belief were not true. This is liberalism’s ideal, but it doesn’t work. A person can believe in the face of uncertainty. He cannot long believe a truth which he cannot treat as public, as actionable. Thus we struggle to hold faith in a way our ancestors didn’t, until one by one we come to find our private beliefs so unreal that we give them up.
Ultimately, liberalism has room only for itself.