In my last series in which I reviewed Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity and Why This Harms Everybody, I promised a follow up essay in which I contrast the view of freedom that animates both Liberal Political Theory and Social Justice Theory with the Christian understanding of freedom. Here is how I ended that series and set up this essay:
For all their differences, classical liberalism and Social Justice Theory are animated by the same definition of freedom: freedom in its pure form is the state wherein there are no restrictions on doing what you wish to do. In practice, both viewpoints restrict the freedom of some people so that others can enjoy a freedom of their own. Liberalism restricts government power so that everyone can enjoy equal civil rights and equal economic freedom. Theory wishes to use the power of government and woke social institutions to restrict the freedom of white people, men, and heterosexuals—which, taken together constitute the oppressor group in society—to do and become whatever they wish in the name of greater freedom for people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and all other marginalized groups to do and become whatever they wish.
Hence both classical liberalism and Social Justice Theory adhere to a nihilistic, anti-Christian, anti-nature, and anti-human vision of freedom. The logical implication of their view of freedom is the dissolution of everything human, natural, divine, good, and right in the name of the arbitrary will of the self-defining self to become and do whatever it wishes. Social Justice Theory is just one more step in the progressive movement wherein a false view of freedom works itself out toward its logical end, that is, self-conscious nihilism and anarchy.https://ifaqtheology.wordpress.com/2021/01/17/social-justice-theory-versus-classical-liberalism-a-logical-analysis-and-a-christian-reflection/
Freedom from External Oppression
All views of freedom have negative and positive aspects. They envision an enslaving power, a self that is enslaved, a liberating power, and a state into which the self is liberated. Theories of freedom differ by viewing each of these four aspects differently. Liberalism’s and Social Justice Theory’s discussions of political and personal freedom focus on liberation of the self from oppressive forces external to the self. Social Justice Theory defines the self primarily in intersectional terms, that is, in terms of membership in an oppressed race, gender, or other group. Liberalism defines the self as an individual, happiness-seeking human being. But in both philosophies it is the fulfillment of the will, wishes, or desires—whatever term you prefer—of the self that are being inhibited by something outside the self. The liberated state, then, is envisioned as the power to do as one wishes. Likewise, Liberalism and Social Justice Theory differ in the external forces they consider oppressive. Liberalism wishes to liberate individuals from inequality in law or government enforcement of law. Social Justice Theory also recognizes these oppressors but extends the list to include many more ways the self’s fulfillment is restricted—by racial stereotypes, presumed norms governing gender and identity, systemic racism, and an ever-expanding list of others. Both Liberalism and Social Justice Theory, as all political theories do, rely on coercive power—soft or harsh—to liberate the victim self from external oppression.
Christianity also wishes to liberate people from oppression. There are, indeed, places where Christianity’s program of liberation overlaps with those of Liberalism and Social Justice Theory. However in the Christian understanding, the root cause of all external injustice is self’s internal bondage and corruption. For Christianity, the goal is not to liberate the self from some external power so that it can become and do whatever it desires. This action would only enable the self to externalize its internal bondage and corruption more readily. Christianity advocates liberation of the self from its own perverted will, that is, its inability to love God with all its heart, mind, soul, and strength and its idolatrous love of itself. In case you need reminding that what I am saying is the unambiguous teaching of the New Testament, read these statements from Paul:
17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Rom 6:17–18)
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Eph 2:1–5)
In this respect Christianity relativizes the worldly distinction between oppressors and victims. Everyone is a victim of sin and everyone oppresses their neighbors by not loving them as God loves them. There are no innocents.
Christian freedom is the state of possessing the inner power to love God and your neighbor. It is not leeway to sin as you like. It is the power to will and do the good. Christian freedom does not embrace or entail nihilism and anarchy. It embraces Jesus Christ as the model for divine and human identity. Christian freedom does not advance through coercion, harsh or soft. It advances in a way consistent with its nature as free, that is, by inner illumination, empowerment, and transformation through the Word and Spirit of God.
The Bottom Line
Liberalism and Social Justice Theory view
the oppressive power from which we need liberating as external restriction,
the self as the totality of the desires of the individual,
the liberating power as political coercion,
and the state of freedom as the power to do as one pleases.
the oppressive power from which we need liberating as sin,
the self as God’s created image made to image God,
the liberating power as the grace of the Holy Spirit,
and the state of freedom as the power to image God in all our actions and loves.
Further Reading on Freedom
I’ve written many essays and one book that touch directly or indirectly on Freedom:
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Hmmm … I agree with what you say, but wonder if it leaves some things out. I don’t think a wholistic biblical view of human freedom is entirely spiritual. The OT especially recognizes oppression from people in power, the rich oppressing the poor, the wicked oppressing the righteous. I don’t think that the social justice movement has gotten this exactly right, but the call for the people of God to oppose injustice is strong. What matters, though, is how injustice is defined. If it is simply encroaching on one’s desire to do whatever one wishes, then that is not the biblical call.
Absolutely, you are correct. And I did throw in one sentence acknowledging that fact. But one has to write to a particular audience, and the audience I had in mind tends to overlook the view of freedom I argued is the core understanding of the NT message about freedom. I thought the risk worth it. I did not want anyone to miss my point. But there are ethical implications of the view of freedom that is at the heart of the Bible…I’m cautious about translating them into political policies.
Thanks as always!