In defense of unity
Peter Leithart on the relationship between ecclesial unity and religious liberty
Why should the call for ecclesial unity demand just as much, if not more, of our efforts and attention than current battles over religious liberty? How could getting Catholics, Presbyterians, and Lutherans together to worship and discuss their similarities (not just their differences) be equally pressing and even more significant than fighting for the rights of Christian lawyers, Christian business owners, and Christian professors? Pastor-theologian, Peter Leithart, argues in his recent blog post entitled “Referees, Players, and Religious Liberty,” that the disunity among Protestants and between Protestants and Catholics enables our current social pathologies just as much as [Christian] religious liberties become threatened by them.
How can this be? Taking his cue from an essay written by philosopher D.C. Schindler entitled “Liberalism, Religious Freedom, and the Common Good: The Totalitarian Logic of Self-Limitation,” Leithart notes that current infringements upon religious liberty are mere (albeit painful) symptoms of a much more pernicious assumption embedded within the liberal order itself: that while claiming to be a neutral adjudicator, liberalism covertly reserves the right to draw boundaries around that about which it claims to have no competency, namely, religion.
“As a result,” concludes Leithart, “the liberal state institutionalizes and establishes its own theology,” which is to say that religion is irrelevant to the common good. When the common good can only be discussed in terms defined by the secular realm, the traditional understanding of the Church as a “catholic, universal community, an alternative public” is severely marginalized in favor of voluntary churches viewed as one communal option among many.
Given that Schindler’s article was published in an edition of Communio dedicated to the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom (Dignitatis Humanae), it isn't surprising that Leithart’s comments echo those of David L. Schindler’s and Nicholas J. Healy’s on the same topic, recently issued on Volume 131 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal. Like Schindler and Healy, Leithart puts forward the unavoidable fact that “liberalism has an anthropology and we can ask a simple question: Is this a Christian anthropology?” If the answer is no, some effort to challenge those anthropological assumptions must take priority.