Negative secularism

Liberalism Better Not Have Failed

on April 30, 2019

The failure of the American legal system to protect freedom of religion and conscience where it conflicts with liberal/left agendas has led some traditional Christians to question whether the ideals of freedom and democracy might not be faulty at their core. The Cato Institute assembled a panel of three scholars to consider the problem on April 24. Joseph Laconte, Associate Professor of History at The King’s College, Daniel Philpott, Professor of Religion and Global Politics of Notre Dame University, and Mustafa Akyol, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, ably defended classical liberalism as compatible with traditional, pre-modern religions in a searching session of discussion and questioning.

Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute began the panel by noting that when liberalism appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was “in many ways … seen as contrary to Christendom at the time.” It was understood as especially in conflict with the Catholic Church. The recent past several generations have seen orthodox Christians strongly aligned with classical liberalism, both political and economic. But today some, such as Catholic political scientist Patrick Deneen, argue that liberalism is incompatible with Christianity, and Christians should step back from supporting it.

Laconte observed that there are “a lot of people on the political left who think that liberalism is and ought to be the enemy of traditional religion.” Others on the right “also believe that liberalism erodes traditional religious belief, and they think that this is what liberalism was designed to do.” For this reason, he said, Deneen “argues that the liberal project was essentially steeped in sin from its birth.” The argument runs that “when liberalism dissolves our moral commitments to one another, when it stigmatizes our faith communities … it is being true to itself.” But Laconte claimed that this understanding of classical liberalism is “thoroughly false,” and is really a “militantly secular view of the rise of the liberal project.” To the contrary, he said, the liberal project has revitalized religion in the West. It was liberalism that “enshrined” liberty of conscience as a high value in Western culture. The historical impetus for liberalism was “a response to the sins of Christendom.” These were “the denigration of individual conscience, the criminalization of dissent, the corrosive entanglement of church and state, the hedonism of clerical leadership, and the deeply rooted antisemitism.” He said the Christendom of Locke’s day had become a “persecuting society.”

According to Laconte, Locke was not fundamentally opposed to Christianity, but saw it as corrupted, and in need of revitalization, which liberalism would accomplish. This Lockean objective Alexis de Tocqueville found vindicated in early nineteenth century America. He noted first of all “the religious aspect of the country.” Unlike Europe, freedom and religion went together in America. Locke’s concepts of faith and freedom had become ideals for Christian Americans during the eighteenth century. Only in this generation has the alliance of Christianity and classical liberalism been questioned. Liberalism today is held to be incompatible with Christianity because it makes individual choice the ultimate good. Laconte thinks that Christian critics of liberalism are “steeped in nostalgia for a pre-modern, medieval world,” and they blame contemporary problems on liberalism. He said that to the contrary, classical liberalism revitalized western Christianity.

Akyol began by pointing to the persecutions pre-modern Christianity was responsible for. But freedom can be compatible with religion, he said. “It has happened in Christianity, it can happen in Islam.” While conceding pre-modern persecutions in Islam, Akyol pointed to its times of tolerance. He noted that Jews fled from Europe for greater safety in the Ottoman Empire. While liberal modernity has in varying degrees been implemented in the Muslim world, there is also now resistance. Akyol observed that while Christendom was affected by ecclesiastical law, there was no Christian legal code, such as Sharia is for the Muslim world. Reconciling Sharia with liberalism is a problem, he said. Some argue that Sharia can be modernized, others disagree. Many fear freedom will destroy religious morality (a not unreasonable fear if the sexual revolution is understood to be part of freedom). Akyol claimed, however, that one can be “a pious conservative Muslim” in a liberal society. But if a religion requires coercion to survive, it is a poor reflection on one’s religion, he maintained. He also believes that recent Islamic terrorism will result in a backlash that will redound to the benefit of liberal modernity in the Muslim world.

Philpott said that with respect to the relation of liberalism to religion, Locke was “the best of the lot.” Eighteenth century secular liberal thinkers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume, were hostile to religion. Rousseau, for instance, proposed replacing existing Christianity with a new religion. The Enlightenment questioned religion altogether. The French Revolution persecuted religious believers. This, Philpott thought, was the reason for nineteenth century popes’ vocal opposition to liberalism. Philpott said that to accept religious freedom, the Catholic Church went to sources from early Christianity, not strictly the Enlightenment. Debates at Vatican II concerning religious freedom reflected this, with conservative skeptics holding that it would lead to a “disintegration of society,” and the collapse of morality. Some of this has happened, Philpott conceded. Advocates of religious liberty held that they were advocating only “the dignity of the person.” The church did not abandon its claim to have the truth, or the moral duty of man, but that the truth is to be obtained by a free search for truth. The Church adopted “political liberalism,” not “theological liberalism.” Finally, Philpott proposed that advocates of religious freedom in the Muslim world seek grounding for their arguments, at least to some degree, from authoritative texts within Islam itself.

Bandow asked if liberalism is the “best political grounding for religious faith.” Akyol said that the classical liberalism of freedom of religion, speech, free market, limited government, etc. is compatible with religion. The political correctness of the left is not. Communism and fascism were disposed of in the twentieth century, and no one wants to return to them. No one has proposed a clear theocratic alternative, he said. We need a society in which “there is full freedom to be religious or to be nonreligious.” This involves the right to give offense to people who disagree with one’s actions or expression. Akyol said that “typically” Muslims “like liberalism when they are in the minority.” He asked what alternatives “the critics of liberalism” are offering.

Laconte replied that alternatives seem “pretty fuzzy.” In contrast, he noted that Pope John Paul II on his visit to communist Poland called for “classical liberal values that will restore the spiritual life, the deeply Christian Catholic life of the nation.” Poland “led the way” to the democratic revolution of 1989, with the Pope’s visit “crucial.”

A questioner observed that Catholic tradition requires “basic moral framework” but is open to the investigations of natural reason. He asked if it is possible for a religion to live with “a wholly value neutral system,” or will it necessarily tend to a religiously based system? Philpott said that natural law is “critical” for a free society. Society must proceed on that basis, and it is known independently of religious revelation. But “natural law without God is likely to go astray.” Theology “can serve as a kind of anchor to keep the social system stable.” God gives natural law a basis, or justification. Akyol claimed that “traces” of natural law remain in Islam, but need “revitalization.” Laconte asserted that a measure of religious faith is important in sustaining a free society. The view of the American founders was that freedom is not possible without virtue, but virtue, they were confident, required religion for long-term survival. But religious faith has to be “uncoerced.” This tree legged stool of faith, virtue, and freedom has endured for two hundred years, but is “under crisis right now.”

Another questioner asked if science has rendered religion obsolete. Akyol said that science answers the question of how things exist, but not why they exist. Late nineteenth and early twentieth century thought not uncommonly said that science would replace religion, but it did not happen, and Akyol believes that it will not, since science does not give any meaning for existence. Laconte noted that early modern scientists were Christians, and Philpott observed that the Big Bang was discovered by a Belgian priest.

Also questioned was whether Christian sexual morality is compatible with liberalism. Philpott said that what the Catholic Church faces is not beliefs in society contrary to Christian sexual morality, but the attempt of the state to impose the belief that Christian sexual morality is oppressive. Catholic institutions can only govern themselves by the Catholic Church’s teaching, and “were facing closing their doors” had the HHS mandate prevailed. The problem with maintaining Christian sexual morality is not that there are people in society who disagree with it, but that it is being actively suppressed by the state. This is a denial of freedom. Akyol observed that this is not classical liberalism, which is about “limited government.” Laconte also observed that people of religious belief have been at the forefront of great reform movements of the past, from the abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement. There must be “civic space to offer a prophetic voice,” he said.

A related question was framed with the claim that liberalism is strongly aligned with secularism – defined as freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. Religious ideas influencing law are incompatible with this. From this viewpoint the real problem is conservative religious leaders trying to influence law to support their beliefs.

Philpott responded that Pope Benedict XVI distinguished between positive and negative secularism. Positive secularism separates the roles of church and state. The church does not “exercise direct political authority.” Negative secularism (or laicité) attempts to marginalize religion and keep it out of society as much as possible. The “French model,” starting with the French Revolution, is an example of this. Ataturk’s Turkey was also given as an example. But an effort “to persuade and shape society” is entirely compatible with positive secularism.

Laconte said that he “absolutely” agrees with Deneen’s critique of the radical individualism being advanced today. He disagrees with Deneen’s claim that Lockean liberalism “at its root gave us” radical individualism. Early modern advocates of liberalism saw religion as the “foundation for a more just and pluralistic society.” Conscience was to be “anchored in something transcendent – the Scriptures itself.” Political liberalism, said Laconte “must be anchored in Biblical morality and Biblical constraint.” This, he said, is Lockean liberalism. Moral collapse does not flow from Lockean liberalism, he maintained.

As was emphasized by the participants, Lockean liberalism has not been historically associated with attacks on religion. Indeed, a common denominator of society was supposed to be belief in God and commitment to Judeo-Christian morality. Religious and social conservatives have repeatedly quoted John Adams, who held that the constitutional order depended on “a moral and religious people.” The Constitution certainly does not provide a moral order, it assumes one. At times, such as much of the nineteenth century, America was more specifically Christian than at other times. Lockean liberalism is not in and of itself a problem. What has caused the problem is what Philpott referred to as “negative secularism,” the attempt to find a new, radically non-Christian secular moral order.

As a moral order, rather than just a political one, negative secularism speaks to life’s meaning, and addresses the beliefs and values that individuals should have. And it holds that people should have self-determination, the right to say what is proper in one’s personal life, have that affirmed by others, and material well-being. It is therefore penalizing the conscience of private parties who disagree, as was seen in the Hobby Lobby case and the HHS mandate controversy concerning religious non-profits.

Without the attempt by the American Left to add the sexual revolution to the ideal of freedom, with the LGBT revolution as its cutting edge, there would be no problem between traditional religion and American liberalism. It worked well for generations, and was beneficial to Christians and other believers. It would continue to work without the Left’s non-negotiable demands. Any disagreements between believers and unbelievers in grounding order and liberty would remain academic, and liberalism would work to relieve conflict, rather than cause it, as it did in the past.

Because there have always been religious voices that never accepted liberalism, the difficulties resulting from the revised version of liberalism pressed by the Left has provided an opportunity to attack liberalism itself as being antireligious. But classical Lockean liberalism is now the best protection traditional believers have against secular attempts to pressure believers into abandoning their faith and morals. The contemporary Left will be only too happy to speak of the “common good,” and the common good it proposes will certainly not include toleration for traditional sexual morality and a particularistic doctrine of salvation in which many persons in contemporary society will face the wrath of God in another world.

Participants in the panel were quite right to urge not throwing out the baby with the bath water. It is sad for anyone to who lived through much of the Cold War, saw the conservative resurgence involving John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Evangelicalism to contemplate that the great issue of the Cold War, namely religious freedom, may now be lost to the descendants of the New Left and the 1960s cultural revolution. But the growth of the nonreligious component of society, the enchantment of the young with socialism, and the constant vehement attacks on Christian doctrine and morality suggest that a much more pervasive loss of freedom of religion and conscience may happen. Orthodox Christians know that God is finally in control of history, and works all things to his glory, but should liberalism fail, the end of religious freedom and underclass status for orthodox Christians will almost certainly be the result.

  1. Comment by Diane on April 30, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    When religion is used to steal the tax dollars of those denied human rights, it deserves to be stigmatized. When religion is used to intimidate helpless children, it deserves to be stigmatized. When religion is used to deny a life-preserving, doctor-ordered procedure to amom with five children, it deserves to be stigmatized.

    Fact: religious belief was used to deny civil marriage until the Supreme Court’s decision. Until that time, those denied marriage were required to pay their Social Security taxes to support widows whose deceased spouse was of the opposite sex. Same-sex couples were denied this benefit, which is worth more than $150K over a ten year period. Even today, lesbian and gay individuals who had a partner who died prior to the Supreme Court decision, are barred from applying for Social Security surviving spouse benefits. Faith-based discrimination that robs people of thousands of dollars in benefits that they were legally required to contribute tax dollars for is highway robbery. It is morally reprehensible.

    When Protestants decreed that Jewish and Catholic children recite the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer (a practice in some of the largest school systems in this nation), this is not about religious liberty. It is about using one’s religious beliefs as a weapon to hurt and intimidate countless children.

    When a woman who’s suffered serious complications with a fifth pregnancy, who’s advised by her doctor to have a tubal ligation because a sixth pregnancy would likely kill her – yet is denied the procedure based on the religious beliefs of doctors in a taxpayer-subsidized hospital, this denial of reproductive choice is immoral.

    In each of these cases I am personally connected. As a liberal, I believe “religious liberty” runs afoul and should be called out when those who defend such seek to harm others. Those others are required to pay their fair share of taxes to support services that they have a right to benefit from. When religious is used to hurt others, it deserves to be called out and stigmatized.

  2. Comment by Loren Golden on April 30, 2019 at 8:28 pm

    Madam, if I might enjoin you to come down from your soapbox for a moment and be “open to reason” (Jas. 3.17), that we might “reason together” (Is. 1.18), there are a few things that I would like you to seriously consider.
    It is quite plain that you believe that the only loving reaction Christians can have to seeing a loved one announce that he or she is an “lgbtq person” is to renounce faith that the Bible is being straight with us when it teaches us that God regards homosexual behavior as a sin (Lev. 18.22, 20.13, Rom. 1.24-28, I Cor. 6.9-11, I Tim. 1.8-11), and instead to embrace these loved ones as if “God created them” to be lesbian, “gay” (male homosexual), bisexual, transgender/transsexual, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual/allies, etc.
    However, Scripture is the Word of God (II Tim. 3.16-17, II Pet. 1.19-21), not the word of man, and as He said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55.8-9)  And we are enjoined to, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.  It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Prov. 3.5-8)
    The Biblical teaching that homosexuality is a sin is a hard teaching for many—yourself included.  After the Lord Jesus delivered another hard teaching (that feeding on His spiritual flesh and blood is eternal life, and that “no one can come to (Him) unless it is granted him by the Father”), “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”  Yet when He asked His twelve disciples if they wanted to go away as well, Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn. 6.26-71)
    And when teaching the crowds of the cost of discipleship, the Lord Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  By this He does not mean that we should literally hate and despise our flesh-and-blood relations, for such would be a supreme violation of the Fifth Commandment (Ex. 20.12, Dt. 5.16, Mt. 15.1-6, Mk. 7.9-13) and the Second Great Commandment (Lev. 19.17-18, Mt. 22.39, Mk. 12.31).  Rather, He means that we should not love them more than we love Him and, by extension, His Father (Mt. 10.37-39).  Yet when we forsake His Word in order to nullify the sinfulness of homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, et al, we are declaring that we do, in fact, love our earthly father, mother, brother, sister, wife, son, or daughter more than we love God, making ourselves unbelievers, for we are thus declaring that we neither believe nor trust His Word, insofar as it violates our sinful consciences.  And to the extent that this is happening in the Church of Jesus Christ today, that part of His Church is dying.
    Now, suppose you were to go to your physician, and she were to see unmistakable evidence that you had a life-threatening cancer, and yet she were to say nothing to you about it, instead telling you that the symptoms you were feeling were merely of a benign tumor that God inherently created you with.  Would this not be malpractice of the worst sort?  Yet it is exactly what you are asking—nay, demanding—the Church of Jesus Christ to do, as a purportedly loving response to the revelation that our loved ones are engaging in sexual sin.  But if the sexually immoral (who fail to repent of their sexual immorality and put their faith in the Lord Jesus) will ultimately have no place in the Resurrection (I Cor. 6.9-11, Rev. 21.8, 22.15), and we know this and yet say nothing in an effort to convince our erring loved ones to repent and seek the saving grace of forgiveness in the finished work of the Lord Jesus, how are we then showing love?  Are we not thus proving ourselves to be genuine devils, by approving of and accepting their sin and iniquity, as if it were truly not sin, when repentance and faith in Christ is what they truly need for restoration and forgiveness, even if they think they neither need nor want it for their “lgbtq” lifestyle?  And how should the Lord Jesus welcome us, if we act thusly?  Do you think it in vain that the Lord Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 7.21-23)?  Or are you a priori convinced that He will only say this to individuals, such as myself, who believe the Biblical witness and seek to warn erring brothers and sisters from following desires of their hearts that will ultimately lead them to destruction?

  3. Comment by Rick Plasterer on May 1, 2019 at 2:44 pm


    Your comment is, as I might have expected given your comments to my earlier articles, an attack on religious freedom, because you do not like particular religious beliefs and practices. I am addressing religious liberty, not whether particular beliefs are correct. In a regime of religious freedom, people are free to criticize religious beliefs and practices, but not to use the law to suppress them, which is what you obviously propose.

    People should not be required to take actions they believe are sinful. The principle author of the First Amendment, James Madison, was very clear in his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, that the first duty of the citizen is to God, not to the state. And so doctors should not be required to perform abortions, which are the taking of human life, instead of seeking the health of both mother and child. Merchants and government officials should not be required to facilitate homosexual activities or marriages they believe are sinful. Shelters for homeless and/or abused women should not be required to accommodate men who think they are women. Voluntary corporate prayer in public school would not require anyone to act against their conscience, but from your standpoint the mere giving of offense is injustice. Your claims to injustice all assume that the current liberal/left line about social relations is the obvious public truth. But it is only opinion, based on a liberal/left estimate of quality of life.

    A modern society like the present one requires considerable latitude for ultimate conviction, but people in general should be able to see that it is morally repugnant to require actions believed sinful and vile.


  4. Comment by Diane on May 1, 2019 at 2:55 am

    It is religious malpractice to interpret scripture in such a way as to destroy life. Jesus re-interpreted biblical teachings re keeping the Sabbath and was rebuked. In those instances, Jesus ignored traditional religious teaching in favor of life (plucking the grain for food/sustenance). Statistically, mixed orientation marriages, where one spouse is concealing their homosexual identity – often because they believe God demands opposite-sex marriage – fail at an unconscionable estimated rate of 85%. This statistic is from the leadership of the international Straight Spouse Network, a support organization for straight people who learn their spouses are not heterosexual. The damage to peoples’s lives, through failed marriages, suicide and runaway youth (lgbtq homeless youth are usually from religious families that reject homosexuality) does not reflect the spirit of an abundant life-affirming God.

    There is no evidence that sexual orientation is chosen by the majority of human beings. The simplistic belief that homosexuality is sinful is blind obedience to an interpretation of scripture that is not in keeping with a God whose spirit chooses life.

    Further, every major conservative-led “ex-gay” “ministry” that “served” thousands of clients over the last four decades, promising “change is possible” has folded. Their conservative Christian leaders have confessed that “change is possible” is a fraudulent claim. A cruel “Christian” hoax.

  5. Comment by Mike on May 2, 2019 at 9:25 pm

    Duane, as usual, you ignore the plain teachings of Scripture, and spout your brand of liberalism without even trying to answer other reasoned responses to your posts. Jesus did not reinterpret Biblical teachings on Sabbath keeping, but instead rebuked the Pharisees’ rules, which were not found in the Old Testament. He said he came to fulfill the Law, not abolish it. That Law includes the strictures against homosexuality. The prohibitions against the practice of homosexuality are repeated in the New Testament, to the point that those whose lifestyles flaunt that way of life are said to have no chance of going to heaven.
    You state that “There is no evidence that sexual orientation is chosen by the majority of human beings.” Evidence is overwhelming that most people choose to follow a normal pattern, that of attraction to the opposite sex, and that those who do not follow the normal pattern generally have been the victim of sexual perversion of some kind during their childhood.
    You come with a bias against the plain teaching of the Scriptures, instead wanting to read your personal feelings into the word of God. Remember, God makes the rules, and we suffer if we rebell against those rules.

  6. Comment by Loren Golden on May 3, 2019 at 12:56 am

    “There is no evidence that sexual orientation is chosen by the majority of human beings.  The simplistic belief that homosexuality is sinful is blind obedience to an interpretation of scripture that is not in keeping with a God whose spirit chooses life. ”
    What, then, about the “simplistic belief” that Sexual Orientation / Gender Identity (SOGI) theory is the only explanation (and hence justification) for certain aberrant sexual desires, such as homosexuality or the desire to become the opposite gender, but not others, such as pederasty, necrophilia, or bestiality?  According to SOGI theory, sexual desires expressed by LGBT+ persons are explained by an intangible aspect of the person’s psyche that orients him or her to (1) find his or her identity in a particular gender, which may or may not be the biological gender with which he or she was born, and (2) to find members of one particular gender attractive (or both), irrespective of his or her own gender.  Those who hold to SOGI theory will insist that it explains (or justifies, is what they really mean) homosexual or transgender desires, and that all of society must absolutely accept them as healthy expressions of human sexuality, but it leaves these others out in the cold, denying that SOGI theory also explains their aberrant desires.  One cannot be “oriented” to sexually desire children, corpses, or animals, but they can be so “oriented” to sexually desire men (if they are men), women (if they are women), both (if they are bisexual), and to desire to become the opposite gender from that in which they were born—or to something in-between—and it is all lovingly blessed by the great idol SOGI.
    However, the Word of God uniformly tells us that our desires are corrupt on account of our sin, and our sexual desires no less so.  “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6.5)  “The intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  (Gen. 8.21)  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17.9)  “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (Jas. 1.14-15)  “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to (those who believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast), because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (Jn. 2.23-25)  And His testimony to “what was in man” is this: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mk. 7.20-23, Mt. 15.18-20)  And Paul’s analysis of the natural condition of the human heart is disheartening and sobering:
    “What then?  Are we Jews any better off?  No, not at all.  For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
    “‘None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
    All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.’
    “‘Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.’
    “‘The venom of asps is under their lips.‘
    “‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’
    “‘Their feet are swift to shed blood;
    in their paths are ruin and misery,
    and the way of peace they have not known.’
    “‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’” (Rom. 3.9-18; quoted from Ps. 14.1-3, 53.1-3, Ps. 5.9, Ps. 140.3, Ps. 10.7 (LXX), Prov. 1.16, Is. 59.7-8, Ps. 36.1)
    And what is more, our sin has alienated us from God; we stand condemned under His Law.  “The LORD passed before (Moses) and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Ex. 34.6-7)  “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. … Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.  All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. … But when I thought to understand this, it seemed a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.  Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.  How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!  Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.  For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.” (Ps. 73.3,12-13,16-20,27)  “For the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6.23)  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Mt. 7.21-23)  “The sons of the kingdom (who have proven faithless) will be thrown into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt. 8.12)  “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Rev. 21.8)
    Jesus Christ came to save men and women from the penalty and power of sin, by bearing the penalty that our sin requires—death—in His own Person on Calvary’s Tree, and by sending God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, to be with all those who trust in Him for salvation from sin and death.  He did not come to dilute the gravity of sin, as if to nullify the offense that sin is to Him and to His Father and to the Holy Ghost.
    You say, “Jesus re-interpreted biblical teachings re keeping the Sabbath and was rebuked.  In those instances, Jesus ignored traditional religious teaching in favor of life (plucking the grain for food/sustenance).”  He did not.  He rebuked the Pharisees’ misinterpretation and misapplication of the Fourth Commandment; He did not nullify the Fourth Commandment.  The Pharisees had added a body of interpretation on the Old Testament Law, adding their own stricter requirements, tighter than what the Law allowed; the Scriptures nowhere forbade the poor from plucking the heads of grain, which they were allowed to do in other people’s fields (Dt. 23.24-25), on the Sabbath.  Rather, the Pharisees had added their own traditions that forbade things like this, making Sabbath keeping to be a burdensome, onerous thing (Mt. 23.4), instead of keeping it as a day of rest, as the Lord had intended it, when He wrote, “On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.” (Dt. 5.14)  Thus did the Lord Jesus rebuke them, saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mk. 2.27-28)  Now to be sure, we Christians rest on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20.7, I Cor. 16.2, Rev. 1.10)—Sunday, the day of the week when the Lord Jesus rose from the dead and first appeared to His disciples (Jn. 20.1,19)—and on it we find our rest in Him (Mt. 11.28, Heb. 4.1-11)  As Augustine famously wrote, “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.“ (Confessions I.1)
    And just as the Lord Jesus did not nullify the Fourth Commandment, neither did He nullify the Seventh.  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5.17-20)  By this, He gave His stamp of approval on all the Old Testament Law, saying that it is by no means passed away, but rather that He came to fulfill it.  Moreover, His statement regarding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was intended to say that our righteousness must be more than outward deeds only, but it must be a righteousness that governs our thoughts as well.
    Consider, then, what He said regarding the Seventh Commandment: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Mt. 5.27-30)  His point was not that we should mutilate ourselves, but that we should rid our lives of sources of temptation that cause us to sin.  For instance, if we cannot refrain from using the internet to view pornographic images and stories, then perhaps it would be wise of us to cancel our internet subscription.  Sexual immorality, He told us, “proceeds from the heart” (Mt. 15.18-20, Mk. 7.20-23).
    “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Prov. 14.12, 16.25)  Thus, it seems to you that homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, et al, are somehow choices in keeping with “the spirit of an abundant life-affirming God.”  And I say “choices” because no one is coercing them to choose to act in accordance with the sinful desires of their fallen, depraved hearts.  It is not some intangible “orientation” that makes a man a homosexual; it is his commission of homosexual acts, or his intention to act on his same-sex attraction if given the opportunity, that does so.  Like it or not, the God who created this Universe condemns—among a great many other sins—homosexual acts.  And it is THAT God, not a god of our wishful thinking, that we must face, when we stand before His Judgment Throne when our brief lives on this world are over, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (II Cor. 5.10)  And for those who cling to their sin to the bitter end, and seek not forgiveness and repentance in the atoning work of Christ on the Cross, it will not go well for them.
    Finally, you said, “It is religious malpractice to interpret scripture in such a way as to destroy life.”  How, then, do you justify destroying the life of unborn children in the womb?

  7. Comment by Lee D. Cary on May 1, 2019 at 9:48 am

    The meaning of “liberal/liberalism” was hijacked and reversed opposite to its original use during the American progressive movement in the late 19th-early 20th Centuries.

    Yesterday’s “liberal” fits the description of today’s “conservative.”

    In the comments above, I have difficulty tracking which definition of “liberal” is in play.

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