Is the Liberal a Voyeur?

“For your Lordship sayeth, it is sincerity, as such, that procures the favor of God.  If it be sincerity, as such, then it is sincerity independent and exclusive of any particular way of worship: and if the favor of God equally follows every equal degree of sincerity, then it is impossible that there should be any difference, either as to merit or happiness, between a sincere martyr, and a sincere persecutor; and he that burns the Christian, if he be but in earnest, has the same title to reward for it, as he that is burnt for believing in Christ.”

William Law, Defense of Church Principles (1717-1719)

I detest the phrase “people of faith.”  Firstly because it draws a false division between people who live by ancient faiths and people who live by the mushroom faiths of the hour.  Secondly because it peddles the notion that it is not what a man believes that matters, but rather the ardency with which he believes it.  There is, for instance, a fad for home decorations that bear the simple and impertinent exhortation to Believe.  Has there been an outbreak of Pyrrhonism?  Do these hortatory pillows and coffee mugs shame men out of epochê.  Are they inciting a rush to judgment?

When someone says “people of faith,” he is trying to be non-judgmental about judgment.  He is trying, perhaps successfully, to ignore the content of a faith and admire its form.  But if faith is admired simply for its formal properties, the most outstanding “people of faith” are purchasers of lottery ticket.  Theirs is a faith of which Christian martyrs stand in awe.  If belief is admired simply on the basis of its formal properties, the most outstanding believers, I venture to say, are those who believe in things like “the debt ceiling” and “the integrity of elections.”  It was to these believers that Jesus was no doubt referring when he told Thomas how blessed are those who believe what they shall never see.

My epigraph is taken from a letter William Law wrote to the Bishop of Bangor, a liberal chap who must have thought that God was gratified by the offerings of Aztec priests, since those blood-soaked hierophants could not be faulted for want of zeal.  This is, of course, one of the many odd quirks of the liberal.  He admires in others the ardency that would disgust him in himself.  Is the liberal a voyeur?

William Law, William Law’s Defense of Church Principles: Three Letters to the Bishop of Bangor, 1717-1719, ed. J.O. Nash and Charles Gore (Edinburgh: J. Grant, 1909), p. 52.

5 thoughts on “Is the Liberal a Voyeur?

  1. Perhaps it is the result of a Neo-Kantian belief that, if religion is a genuine and distinctive activity of the human spirit, then we need to identify the a priori principle or universal form that is (presumably) embedded in it.

    Not surprisingly, there is a tendency to identify this with the act of faith or, what I regret to say I have heard called (by an Oxford Professor of Divinity no less) “the faith-experience.”

    The reverent agnostic, often a clergyman and particularly if he is from a Low Church or Evangelical background, will argue that there are truths of fact and truths of value (another caricature of Kant). Some people, he will contend, experience guilt and alienation and then, after a religious experience, this is replaced with a sense of liberation and union and this, he will claim is of value (even supreme value) in and of itself.

    If he is a don, he will probably lecture on Plotinus and admire the Abbé Bremond, whose writings on mysticism, poetry, symbolism and romanticism earned him election to the Académie française in 1923, in succession to Mgr. Duchesne and a eulogy from the French Symbolist poet, Paul Valéry

  2. Jesus said mustard seed sized faith was fine if it was faith in Him. Faith in Christ is not just yes/no. We believe things about Him, what He thinks of things, the nature of our relationship with Him, etc. Modern feminized Christianity tends to see Him as a nice beta.

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