Why are ‘progressives’ so anti-freedom?

Will Jones writes: It is increasingly clear with each passing year that public life has been colonised by the zealots of a progressive creed of equality and diversity. It is a continuously evolving creed and you have to keep up. Fifteen years ago it was racist (or even fascist) to bring up the topic of immigration, and common for Parliament to seek reassurances that we weren’t headed towards gay marriage. Today, immigration is barely out of the news, and it is the height of controversy to raise any doubts at all about same-sex marriage.

The lines are ever moving. But, by golly, do you know when you cross them. Employees who express socially conservative views or dare to question the diversity agenda are summarily sacked or demoted. Business leaders who oppose same-sex marriage find their organisations boycotted until they are removed. Magistrates are fired for articulating the idea that it is better for children to have a mother and a father. University academics gang up on dissenting colleagues in an effort to get rid of them, and university bosses are severely criticised for not taking action against academic staff. States are forced to comply with transgender demands over toilet facilities. Companies are viciously bullied into renouncing support for rational debate and becoming champions of the LGBT agenda. Bakeries and many other businesses involved in weddings are ordered by courts to undertake artistic work contrary to their religious beliefs. MPs are hounded and attacked for confessing to holding (or being suspected of holding) socially conservative views. Religious schools are failed for not acting contrary to their beliefs and pushing the radical sexuality agenda, while government advisers make clear that dissent should not be tolerated. Physicians who offer help to people with unwanted same-sex attraction are verbally assaulted on television. Self-styled anti-fascists violently attack politicians and others who dare to challenge the regnant ideology. Once-feted feminists are pilloried for not embracing transgender ideology. Universities and other organisations impose diversity and equality regulations and training on students and staff. Students’ unions routinely ban the expression of views with which they disagree. Volunteers are made to wear badges promoting the LGBT agenda. Foster carers are barred merely for holding socially conservative views on sexuality. On every level and in every sphere, in school, government and workplace, the progressive zealots are on the march and will brook no dissent.

So why are these so-called progressives so anti-freedom, so imperious in enforcing compliance with their creed? They don’t think of themselves as anti-freedom, of course. They think of themselves as pro-freedom – freedom to be yourself, your gender, your sexuality, your race, your individuality. Just not freedom of speech, conscience or religion – not at least if what you want to say or what you believe contradicts the progressive agenda. But this isn’t anti-freedom, they think, it is merely opposing bigotry, oppression, discrimination and hatred. It is, they suppose, the modern-day civil rights movement – earlier generations fought for racial equality, today that continues but with gender and sexuality added in to the cause.

But aren’t freedom of conscience, religion, speech, and so on, progressive causes too? Didn’t earlier generations of progressive thinkers and activists recognise the importance of defending such freedoms precisely to protect people from being silenced because others find their ideas offensive or hateful? So why do the rules appear to be different now that the progressives are in charge – was it only progressive, liberal views they were ever really interested in defending, and now they are on top they are happy to dispense with the quaint notion of tolerating their opponents?

Tolerance in weakness, intolerance in strength – the classic double standard of ideological minorities, and it no doubt plays its part here. As too, surely, does the baleful legacy of racism in Europe and America, which has convinced many that certain ideas and beliefs are not to be tolerated in public life even amongst the conscientious and religious.

But there is also something deeper going on, something more than a double standard of tolerance or a convicted conscience about race. Ultimately, and not without a whiff of paradox, it is the nihilism and relativism at the heart of modern culture which underpins the progressives’ confidence in their moral superiority and their overactive sense of being justified in suppressing all dissent.

How so? The most important thing to grasp about the progressive creed is that it is not really a positive philosophy at all but a negative one, not an affirmation of truth but a denial of all truth, not a vision of the human good but a renouncing of the very idea of the human good.

The attempt to build a practical philosophy without any foundation in truth or morality was arguably the central project of twentieth century moral and political philosophy. It came in a wide variety of guises – liberal, conservative and socialist, left-wing and right-wing – and was espoused in one form or another by a great diversity of thinkers – Isaiah Berlin, John Rawls, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michael Oakeshott, and many more – but for all its variety it was united by a deep scepticism about the existence of the human good and our capacity to know it and attain it.

The basic idea was to find an approach to human life that did not claim to be true but only claimed to be neutral between truth claims, did not assert itself to be right but merely allowed everyone to live according to their own beliefs about how best to live. In this way, scepticism, relativism and nihilism could, paradoxically, become it seemed the basis for a public philosophy, namely one founded entirely on the concept of the individual expressing his or her own distinctive individuality. For it turns out that while the human good may not exist, or we may not know what it is, we can always let people make up their own minds about it and ensure they are free to do so.

The sinister shadow side of this progressive project is its totalising nature – though this is not a consequence which its intellectual architects necessarily foresaw or would welcome. Yet it follows inescapably from the relativist and individualist premise. For if the one principle which a sceptical, relativist world can affirm is individuality, then at all costs any principles which undermine that because they continue to peddle the old ideas of truth and goodness must be resisted and suppressed. Not, note, disputed and refuted – that would be to play the moralists at their own game, to accept the discredited idea that there is a truth to be established to which reason can lead us. No, forcibly silenced, for that is all that is left when rationality and truth have been jettisoned as unreliable relics of superseded ways of thinking. This silencing appears to be all the more necessary, furthermore, when it is seen how easily people are led into believing that their own peculiar ideas are true for everyone and ought to be imposed on society, how seductive ideas of truth and goodness are to human beings.

The deep irony in all this of course is that the progressive creed is, in truth, the very thing it opposes. It may claim to be neutral and avoid all grounding in ideas of truth and morality, but it cannot succeed, for that is impossible, a flatly incoherent idea. It is therefore, by its own lights, no more justified in imposing itself on society than any other set of beliefs.

Thus progressivism becomes the very thing it stands against. It denies the truth can be known, yet asserts this as unassailable truth; it opposes the imposition of morality, yet intransigently imposes its own ethical code; it stands against the authoritarian and autocratic, yet stripped of reason that is the only way it knows how to rule. It becomes inexorably a dictatorship of relativism. This self-contradictory nature flows directly from the error at its core: the idea that leaving things up to the individual is a neutral, value-free approach to life, when clearly it is no such thing.

Now, as Christians it is important to say that our alternative is not to deny the significance of the individual and individuality, but to put them in a proper perspective and to stand them on their true ground. God created humankind in his own image – conscious, rational, creative, free – as individuals and not just as collectives, as persons and not just as a species. It is as individuals that we take responsibility for ourselves and others, and as individuals that we will stand before our Maker and give account for our lives. It is this commitment to personal responsibility that ultimately leads Christians to support religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

But this is not at all the same as the progressive creed of individualism floating free on a sea of relativism, scepticism and nihilism. This is the freedom of those who are made in the image of God, those who are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. This is a freedom founded on the truth about human beings and on a vision of the human good, not on a denial of these things. This is why at its heart is a commitment to freedom of conscience, speech, expression and religion – the very freedoms so often denied by adherents of the progressive vision. It is also why alongside its commitment to freedom, or rather as part of it, it remains resolutely committed to truth – truth which it is well to stress given present disputes includes biological realities such as the humanity of the unborn child and the nature of male and female and the relationship between them. Progressives regard these and other facts as socially constructed, products of unconscious bias which ‘bigots’ and ‘fascists’ use to override the personal autonomy of individuals. But Christians know better than this, and hold that true freedom is freedom that keeps hold of what is true.

Christians can of course be progressive in the broader sense, of being committed to a vision of human progress and improvement. But words are defined in large measure by usage, and these days to be progressive means to be an adherent of the ascendant ideology of the individual – relativist, sceptical, nihilist, cut free from any moorings in truth or reason. If some Christians wish to call themselves progressive and try to reclaim the word for a true vision of progress then that is a noble endeavour. But be under no illusion that what currently passes for progressive ideas is far removed from a Christian vision of the human good. Indeed, it is by design far removed from any vision of the human good, for it has replaced it with a mushy therapeutic relativism that aims to keep everyone happy by telling them they can’t be wrong and cosseting them from anyone who might try to tell them otherwise. Yet it conspicuously does not extend this delicate treatment to dissenters, whom it means to silence without pity. The way things are going, it is hard to see what will stop it. Lovers of freedom, time to wake up.

Dr Will Jones is a Birmingham-based writer, a mathematics graduate with a PhD in political philosophy and a diploma in biblical and theological studies. He works in a Church of England Diocesan office, blogs at www.faith-and-politics.com and is author of Evangelical Social Theology: Past and Present (Grove, 2017).

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146 thoughts on “Why are ‘progressives’ so anti-freedom?”

  1. Outstanding essay, Will, thank you. I would very much like to read a Part 2 on how/where this is working itself out in the church, how it may manifest next, and what to do about it.

  2. Good essay, weel done.

    You wrote:
    “They don’t think of themselves as anti-freedom, of course. They think of themselves as pro-freedom – freedom to be yourself, your gender, your sexuality, your race, your individuality. Just not freedom of speech, conscience or religion – not at least if what you want to say or what you believe contradicts the progressive agenda.”
    ….only they don’t believe in freedom to be your own gender, your own sexuality …..they are actually prfoundly against heterosexual people and have even coined a new dismissive terminology of “cis-gendered” to put heterosexual people in their place!

    • Clive. A correction, if I may. Cisgender is not a synonym for heterosexual. It is the opposite of transgender. Cis is a Latin prefix. There is nothing derogatory about the term.

      • I don’t know…..

        You are correct that Cisgender is not the same as heterosexual, as the former defines a gender identity (simply, that your gender is the same as your biological sex) and the latter defines a sexuality (attracted to members of the opposite sex). Cisgender is a synonym for heterosexual, in the same way that ‘male’ is a synonym for ‘biexual’, i.e. they are not at all the same.

        However, I do think that Cisgender is often a pejorative term, by usage if not explicitly by definition, and so I agree with Clive. I have only ever encountered it as such. The word seems to have come into use, fairly understandably, as a direct reaction to the ‘normal-other’ paradigm, wherein you are either ‘normal’, or ‘transgender’, but in becoming a label it has also become exclusive, and that is the danger. You are not allowed to understand transgender issues, or comment on them, unless you are yourself transgender.

        If anything, Cisgender is a label, a label that says “this person is not allowed an opinion on this issue”, and I reject that.

        • Matt, I am interested that you have only come across the term cisgender used pejoratively. Might I askin what contexts? I use it often, simply as a neutral (if anything is truly ‘neutral’) descriptor. And I have lots of opinions, as you may have noticed! I have, I must admit, been challenged for using it by other feminists (who were definitely TERFS!).

          • OK, I’ll stand corrected on one thing, I should not have said it was “always” pejorative, just often. 😉 There are a good amount of academics who might dislike using the term, but do so in the absence of a better one. I personally don’t object that much to the word, it’s fairly neutral, but I do have my complaints….

            It’s hard to be specific though, as like you (and much of the ‘commentariat’) I have fingers in many internet pies. I know that I encountered it in blog-commentary about the Nashville statement, to give a recent example. People representing the LBGT lobby (I think an article on PinkNews, or an equivalent) were quick to write the signatories off as, and I paraphrase, ‘white-cis-male-priviledged-patriacrhy-types’. The term ‘cis’ just gets thrown into the list of lazy generalisations, rather than a specific insult in and of itself.

            I’ve seen it on Twitter quite a bit too, as well as in Youtube commentary (ah yes, that august platform for civil debate!) and by reactionaries on both sides of the current events in Berkely. There were even, if I recall, placards at the women’s rallies earlier this year that used the word, citing ‘cis oppression of trans women’.

          • Thanks, Matt. I do use it as shorthand. But that’s not meant to be writing people off. Simply that cis, straight, white, male privilege is a quick way of describing andrarchal, western privilege! I don’t think cis, straight, white males are all bad. I’m married to one!

          • I also find “cisgender” offensive and dismissive, whether it is intended to be or not, and I agree with Clive and Matt that often it feels as if it is intended to be. It labels and thus problematizes normal people – and yes, I know we’re not supposed say “normal,” but notice that I have no other words to describe people who are not short-sighted or dyslexic. Cis-sighted and cis-literate? I don’t think so. I’m happy to call them normal in contrast to my own conditions.

            Using “cis-” as a prefix to “gender” is also incoherent. It means “on this side of.” What can “on this side of gender” mean? Describing me with a nonsense word makes me feel as if I’m being called nonsensical. I think I’m entitled to find that offensive. No thanks.

          • Hello Bernard. You are, of course, as entitled to find the term cisgender offensive, as I find it neutral. Labels often ‘problematise’ people. though less usually ‘normal’ people. Transgender is as ‘incoherent’ as cisgender, but they have both become useful shorthand and not every word means what its etymology might suggest! Do you find the term heterosexual offensive?

          • I agree Bernard. To expand on my comments above, the problem this stems from (though this is really another discussion entirely) is the observation that ‘normal’ has ceased to mean something approximating ‘average’, and now carries connotations of legitimacy/acceptance. If it is normal, it is acceptable. If, however, two contrasting things cannot both be considered normal, then neither of them should be: or so saith the world… hence the need to create additional labels for things, neat boxes to keep the distinctions in.

            To answer Penelope’s question, though it was not aimed at me, I do not take offense at either.

            I am far more worried about the increasing effort of activists to classify people according to their narrative of complete gender/sexuality/sex ‘fluidity’, of which the word ‘cisgender’ is just one of many components. The word itself is harmless, it’s the agenda behind it that concerns me.

          • Thanks Matt. That’s exactly what worries me about the contemporary use of the word ‘normal’, that, instead of meaning typical, it is used to imply canonicity and legitimacy. As I read the other day, heterosexuality isn’t normal, it’s just common!
            I think we ought to recognise that both ‘sides’ of this debate have agendas, that we all subscribe to narratives, and that we all use labels to categorise both ourselves and our ‘opponents’.

          • Penelope,

            I don’t think that “transgender” is as incoherent as “cisgender,” since “trans” is a prefix which is often used with verbs having to do with movement “across” from one place or condition to another. Granted not every word means what its etymology suggests, I find it hard to think that a new coinage doesn’t reflect the etymology for which it was chosen.

            And if it doesn’t reflect its (incoherent) etymology, what does it mean? Don’t get me started on “assigned gender” which insults my parents, as if they imposed my sex on me. For that matter, if I’m in a really bad mood, I’ll point out that since gender is a grammatical term, words have gender, but I don’t.

            More to the point on “cisgender,” isn’t the usual principle that we don’t use words which others have identified as offensive, regardless of whether we think they are or not. It won’t wash for me to say of the N word “Look at the etymology, it’s just comes from the Spanish for the perfectly neutral ‘black’ so I think it’s neutral.” It isn’t neutral.

            Do I find “heterosexual” offensive? No, because although it isn’t necessarily perfect, it is at least coherent for the way it is generally used, and more neutral than “straight.” Part of the difference I guess is that sexuality is no longer an area where medical disorders are identified, so “normal” would no be used in the same way as with short-sightedness or dyslexia.

          • Thanks Bernard. I wouldn’t use a word to describe you which you found offensive, but I will continue to use it of myself. Trans is probably as ‘incoherent’ as cis since, for example, trans alpine depends on where you’re standing!
            Gender is, of course, one of those words which have extended their semantic range. Others, like heterosexual, simply change in meaning over time.

          • Penelope,

            I’d suggest the “trans-” prefix can be coherent because it’s meaning of across and suggestion of movement could easily be “away from where you started, wherever that might happen to be.” Of course Transalpine in the context of its opposite Cisalpine (whence the use of “cis-” surely derives) always means [Gaul] the other side of the Alps from Rome, and Cisalpine is [the part of Gaul] on the side nearest Rome. There’s a fixed, definite and unambiguous starting point.

            But yes, I have to accept that gender has extended its semantic range, even if I think that has ended up causing a good deal of confusion.

          • Penelope,

            You wrote:
            “Gender is, of course, one of those words which have extended their semantic range. Others, like heterosexual, simply change in meaning over time.”

            That is a classic, ….if “Gender” has extended its semantic range then in reality it has adjusted its meaning, so you then say that “heterosexual” has simply changed its meaning over time, yet instead of a contrast between the two you have revealed that they have both changed their meaning ….allegedly.

            The reality is that the idea that gender being actually different to sex is close to garbage and it its still close to garbage, the kind of strange idea of those who WANT to say that they are they different because they personally choose to make them more different than they actually are. This is the same narrative that says that black is white and white is black.

    • Well – if they are profoundly against heterosexual people they are against 98-99% of the people on the face of the planet. That is a lot of people.

      I don’t disagree with the assessment. They are against everyone who disagrees with same sex marriage, i.e. practically every human being who ever lived till 5 years ago, before which time even Obama and Hillary were against it.

      That is quite some proportion of human beings to be intolerant of.

  3. Thanks, Will, this has articulated clearly what my mushy mind has been struggling to think through. You paint a pretty bleak picture, and it is hard to see a way forward. I am (somewhat to my embarrassment at having not done so before) in the middle of reading Orwell’s 1984. The Oceania slogan – War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength – feels very apt for our age. And the Thought Police…

    • Maybe something similar to the Donatist heresy will arise in the future, when all the people who bowed the knee to Big-PC will be in danger of being ostracised. I hope not.

  4. Thanks Will, this is excellent. What you write is similar to Don Carson’s book “The Intolerance of Tolerance”.

    It reminds me of this little exchange from Blackadder:

    Tell me, do you ever stop shouting at the lower orders?

    Duke of Wellington:
    NEVER! There’s only one way to win a campaign: SHOUT, SHOUT AND SHOUT AGAIN!

    You don’t think inspired leadership and tactical ability has anything to do with it?

    Duke of Wellington:
    (pause) NO! It’s all down to shouting! BAAAH!

    It seems to me that when you don’t have the power to win intellectual arguments, all you’ve got left is shouting – calling people bigots, emotional blackmail, etc. The intolerance of the progressives is caused by the weakness of their actual arguments.

  5. Sorry, but I found this a dull rant rather than an argument. Apparently progressives are all nihilistic non-Christian, relativistic and uninterested in truth. Rubbish. The only way he can possibly defend it is by creating his own definition in the last paragraph, where he self-defines progressives as such.

    This is poor. Right wing commentators and pressure groups are adduced as evidence (Janet Daly, Christian Concern). Events are twisted to make a point (the magistrate was not sacked for having a view, but for rejecting an adoption application on these grounds, and having official complaints made by all his colleagues on the panel). Academics criticising a fellow academic’s views (whilst noting her right to free speech) is categorised as ‘ganging up’. Ironic for a piece which claims to value truth highly.

    In total, this is just insulting (in particular the progressive vs Christian opposition set up). There are plenty of progressive Christians who have a strong regard for freedom and truth, and there are plenty of conservative Christians who hound, bully, gang up, use the law, insult and show little regard for the truth or freedom.

    • if we’re referring to the same person, the magistrate expressed concerns that as there are no studies to show how well a teenage child develops in a single sex household in the UK, then he felt he couldn’t place the child.
      Over the weekend it was revealed that an academic was denied the chance to research real people making real decisions about their gender as it would bring about criticism of a university: the real people were ones who had detransitioned and the uni were concerned about a social media backlash to research that potentially would show that the current trends are wrong. Is this ganging up on someone – he is sympathetic to trans people as he has worked in this field for 10 years and more – it appears to be much worse as its silencing research in an area that people are happy to just stick their fingers in their ears about rather than find out some facts.
      Your argument is true in that there are many on both sides who would hound, bully etc.
      But facts are facts. And the magistrate wasn’t examined using the full story – it was just easier to say he was wrong rather than stop and think that perhaps we should have some ‘facts’ before we place children in family units where there is no evidence to say all will be well. The man was trying to apply facts to the situation and he was censored for it. How can that be? I think this is what people might struggle with, religious or not.

      • The magistrate was sacked after an investigation by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice). They found that his comments ‘would have caused a reasonable person to conclude he was biased and prejudiced against single sex adopters; they considered this to be serious misconduct which brought the magistracy into disrepute.’ This already followed a reprimand over a similar incident the previous year, where he ‘had allowed himself to be influenced by his religious beliefs and not by the evidence’.

        He was not censored for trying to apply facts to a situation; he was censored for applying his viewpoints irrespective of the evidence. His case was considered by two of the leading UK lawyers.

        • HI Jonathan

          I don’t see how explaining the context further makes the whole thing any better!

          The reference to evidence is rich as his point was that there is insufficient evidence to be confident, particularly given that all the evidence to date is that children do best with a mother and a father.

          But anyway the insistence on non-discrimination is here, as in many cases, made ideologically, not based on evidence – the evidence follows after, if it comes at all.

        • Jonathan, lawyers have executive rights to make a decision. They want to make a decision which is culturally acceptable, for which they will not be ostracised.

          You have faith in the law, yet why? Lawyers are known to play a loopholes-game. Further, they are known to capitalise on divorce. They have not the slightest interest in an abandoned or innocent spouse.

          • I have not examined the case. The two lawyers in question may have been so caught up by the system that (a) expects culturally acceptable findings and (b) punishes the innocent that they may not have even noticed. They are operating in a closed system, a small world of sorts.

          • Lawyers do not make decisions in the sense you imply they do. The job of a lawyer in the UK (a solicitor, or a barrister) is advocacy and presentation of information before a court; not judgement, which is reserved for Jury, Judge and Magistrate, and done ONLY on the basis of what evidence is presented to them.

            This is hardly a loopholes game. I do agree with you about the divorce point in general, but it could be phrased more kindly: the legal professions in the country have undoubtedly benefited from the change of divorce Law in the late 60s, but to imply that they are personally responsible, lack compassion, or are willfully engineering it is a bit much. A minority perhaps, but the whole system?

          • My point being, that the system is meant to provide objectivity: wherein the ones presenting the case and the ones making judgements are distinct.

            This magistrate blurred that line, and thus faced censure. He was not told he could not hold those beliefs, but rather than, in his capacity as an objective arbiter of presented information, he allowed his own opinion/prejudices to carry weight.

          • It is not an opinion or prejudice that people have 2 parents one male and one female, and that that is their natural state and circumstances. It is not even just a fact. It is one of the most obvious facts in existence.

            How would you justify the view that this is a mere opinion? The idea that it is a prejudice is right out of court.

          • “How would you justify the view that this is a mere opinion?”

            I wouldn’t, because it’s irrelevant. Perhaps I’ve explained badly….

            The magistrate is only allowed to make his/her judgement on the basis of things presented before them by the prosecutor and defense. Only that. It simply doesn’t matter that the fact of parentage being male-female is plain-as-day to everyone in the room; unless it is presented as evidence as part of the case it cannot be taken into account when making the judgement. That was the line that was crossed, it has nothing to do with the legitimacy or otherwise of the concerns.

    • Jonathan, the fact that you use the nonsensical word ‘progressive’ at all shows you have fallen head-first into the chronological snobbery fallacy.

      You talk about being insulting. It is obviously also insulting to brand so very many intelligent people ‘regressive’ by implication. But its insultingness is nothing compared to its falsity.

      • It was Will who introduced the use of the word ‘progressive’. Blame him if you want to find a target. But in the meantime can you be equally vigilant to make sure no-one uses the word ‘revisionist’.

        • Certainly not. Revisionist is an objective description (an agent or seeker of change).

          ‘Progressive’ is an ideological description which assumes the very thing it ought to have demonstrated.

          Surely you can see the difference.

          • Progressive is an objective description (an agent or seeker of progress).

            ‘Revisionist’ is an ideological description which assumes the very thing it ought to have demonstrated.

            Surely you can see the difference.

            But seriously, you don’t think revisionist has any ideological baggage?!

          • You didn’t answer the question ‘Do you see the difference?’

            Do you see the difference? It is a large one.

            It needn’t have ideological baggage, but I am sure it can have. Not essentially though.

            I use the word because what we are seeking is a shorthand for those who are now using a different paradigm.

            Different paradigms are adopted all the time. I would not wish to live in a world where they were not. There is nothing sinister about that.

            But they need to be examined for whether they hold water or not.

          • False: there is a difference.

            Supposing that both words did inevitably carry ideological baggage (untrue, since when I use ‘revisionist’ it carries none, being just a description of those who admit they belong to the party that advocates change) that would still be only one dimension of their usage, the ideological-baggage dimension. There are plenty of other dimensions.

    • Gotta agree, Jonathan.

      I’m baffled how a political philosopher could produce such a poor argument. It’s, as you say, a string of right-wing talking points, sourced with links to right-wing agitprop. Its gist is the hoary “junk God, find nihilism” equation, but without any supporting evidence for the non sequitur of linking it to progressivism. Not only will it fail to convince anyone who isn’t already a convert; it’ll embarrass plenty who are.

      Most frustrating is that I agree with much criticism of the cultural left, but I’ve seen far better conservative takedowns than this. Heck, I could probably write one myself, which, given that Dr. Jones has a ton more qualifications in this field, is bizarre. I don’t say this to be needlessly unkind: I say this only because I’m sure that Dr. Jones can do a lot better than this.

  6. Hi Will,
    It is good to read your thoughtful and insightful commentary and I especially say Amen to this: ‘It is this commitment to personal responsibility that ultimately leads Christians to support religious freedom and freedom of conscience.’
    I am also encouraged to note that you, the writer of these wise words, work in the office of Coventry Diocese. Our church is in Coventry Diocese – we are currently in a long interregnum and I think that members of our fellowship are holding together and pulling together well during this challenging time of change and waiting.

  7. Your position is all very laudable, Will, but unfortunately you seem to have forgotten that the Church in its various guises has had, and still has, its own problems with intolerance and persecution of those with whom it disagrees. Since the 4th century ‘orthodox’ belief dominated the Christian world (see Charles Freeman’s ‘The Closing of the Western Mind’) and was characterised by intolerance, irrationality, and cruelty. It can be argued that such intolerance by the Church has continued until very recently, and there are even now reports from church leaders, e.g. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, saying that his church is “bigoted, misogynistic, controlling, judgmental, outdated and pharisaical”. So it is hard to agree with your assessment that Christianity has “at its heart is a commitment to freedom of conscience, speech, expression and religion” unless we can separate the Church from Christianity. There is a difference between the ‘theory’ and the practice. And as far as the record goes, liberal democracies probably do better in terms of freedom of conscience, speech, expression and religion.

    Yes, speaking as a Christian, it is difficult to find a way through these difficult moral dilemmas, and even tougher to take some flak when making a stand, but there are far worse problems I could be facing, and more productive things I could be doing with my time than feeling aggrieved. Matthew 7:1-5 helps, too.

    • You are speaking unhistorical nonsense, Steve. Given the state of the Classical world and the Middle Ages, Christianity produced a world immeasurably better than other civilisations. Try a bit of comparative history first.

      Any viewpoint “can be argued for” if you disregard or cherry-pick the facts. Western freedom is the child of Christianity – but now it wants to kill its mother.

      Very well. There are other non- and anti-Christian systems in the world, ready to take over.

      • Steve B didn’t say that Christianity was worse than other civilisations – he said that, since the fourth century, it has had its own problems. And it has, as this violent advice in a sermon from John Chrysostom (fourth century) shows:
        “And should you hear any one in the public thoroughfare, or in the midst of the forum, blaspheming God; go up to him and rebuke him; and should it be necessary to inflict blows, spare not to do so. Smite him on the face; strike his mouth; sanctify your hand with the blow, and if any should accuse you, and drag you to the place of justice, follow them there; and when the judge on the bench calls you to account, say boldly that the man blasphemed the King of angels!… … Let the dissolute and the perverse also learn this; that they must fear the servants of God too; that if at any time they are inclined to utter such a thing, they may look round every way at each other, and tremble even at their own shadows, anxious lest perchance a Christian, having heard what they said, should spring upon them and sharply chastise them.”
        John Chrysostom, Ad populum Antiochenum 1 (PG 49:32-33). Translation from NPNF.

        • Well, Jonathan – you evidently didn’t read him carefully – or me either. This is what he said:

          “Since the 4th century ‘orthodox’ belief dominated the Christian world (see Charles Freeman’s ‘The Closing of the Western Mind’) and was characterised by intolerance, irrationality, and cruelty. It can be argued that such intolerance by the Church has continued until very recently, and there are even now reports from church leaders, e.g. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, saying that his church is “bigoted, misogynistic, controlling, judgmental, outdated and pharisaical”.”

          Intolerance? Irrationality? Cruelty? ‘bigoted, misogynistic, controlling, judgmental and pharisaical’?

          Do you really think that is a fair description of 2000 years of Christianity?

          And what do you think one quotation from Chrysostom proves about 2000 years of world history?

          You’ll have to try much harder than, Jonathan. And learn about ancient Rome, ancient Greece, medieval Arabia, early modern China – and a thousand other things – before making such daft and illogical comments.

          • Thanks for your thoughts, Brian.

            It is difficult to find a definitive history of anything that everyone agrees on, but I think that most historians would accept that there is evidence that the Church has not always behaved in ways that would think of as Christian, and it has persecuted many who did not share its views. Examples of this include the Crusades, the Inquisition, the religious wars waged in Europe from 1528 to 1648, much of British colonial history, and centuries of anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews.

            I mentioned historian Charles Freeman’s book because it makes a convincing case, based on evidence, for what he calls ‘the closing of the Western mind’ from the fourth century onwards. This meant less tolerance by the Church of heterodoxical views, eg the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars (1209-1229), and also the persecution of non believers, eg the massacring, enslavement or exile of thousands of Muslims from southern Italy in 1224 and from southern Spain in 1609 ‘under pain of death and confiscation…of money, bullion, jewels or bills of exchange’.

            I mentioned Roman Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols because he recently wrote a report for the Vatican that criticised his own church for being “bigoted, misogynistic, controlling, judgmental, outdated and pharisaical”. These are his words not mine, and he presumably had evidence to support them. What is so impressive is that he did not assume the moral high ground, nor did he seek to lecture others on their failings, but first sought to put his own house in order.

            So whilst I agree that Christianity has benefited society/the world enormously, and continues to ‘shine a light’ in dark places, I think it’s a mistake to overlook its many failings when it comes to tolerance. Christians have both been both intolerant and tolerant, both persecutors and persecuted, and perhaps it would be wise to remember this.

    • They never believed in freedom or tolerance in the first place. The proof of that is that otherwise they would be still championing them now rather than ridiculing them now.

      What they believed in was freedom for themselves to do whatever they wanted, and tolerance of themselves when they did it.

      Don’t we all?

  8. “Physicians who offer help to people with unwanted same-sex attraction are verbally assaulted on television.”

    I notice that the link provided takes us to Piers Morgan’s recent interview, on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, with Mike Davidson of the “ex-gay” organization Core Issues Trust. Morgan’s vituperative ranting at Davidson was, to put it charitably, both ridiculous and pointless. Morgan should either have courteously and searchingly cross-examined Davidson about the claims that he was making, or have got someone else more knowledgeable on the subject to do so. Instead, all that he achieved was to put himself in the wrong.

    It should be pointed out, however, that Mike Davidson is not a physician. Nor, in case anyone is wondering, is he an accredited psychotherapist. His doctorate is in the field of education.

    • As soon as Mike Davidson mentioned evidence, Piers Morgan started shouting and interrupting him. Unbelievably he asked for evidence and then interrupted him every time he started giving it!!!

      This is probably the most characteristic trait of the ideologues. Every time there is a move away from immaturity and towards adult evidence they stick their fingers in their ears and go ‘la-la-la’.

  9. The issue you are highlighting is of central importance.

    The idea is to abandon the quest for truth, logic, research, in favour of the unresearched and undefended ideology that suits some network of subgroups (whether or not we also call them an elite: I shall avoid doing so).

    Not by coincidence it is that same network that proposed the idea in the first place.

    The people in question are overgrown student radicals but also overgrown infants because they want to throw the toys out of the pram if their unresearched and undefended ideology is not accepted by each and every individual. They require that we all abandon both our consciences and our basic standards of research, so that they may maintain the lifestyle to which they have grown accustomed.

    WIll they win? In terms of winning debate, no self-contradictory position can ever win. They have already been defeated by a walkover (a) if they refuse to enter the debate at all, and (b) if they refuse to use normal standards of evidence.

    But since they think, in their immature manner, that might is right, they care only about power not about being truthful or correct. So long as they hold the reins their position can be as indefensible as they wish – it matters not to them.

  10. This is a very good essay which has helped put into words ideas I’ve been wrestling with for a sermon this Sunday.

    I am also troubled by the appropriation of ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ by a certain secular mindset.

    Notice that insistence on personal freedom is really to do with the body, viz.

    – any kind of consensual sex with anyone of legal age (what does that mean? and why?)

    – abolition of any laws against abortion (at the same time as refusing even to think about the humanity, rights, individuality and personality of the unborn child – who is reified by the word ‘fetus’)

    – absolute right to end your life when you wish with the coerced assistance of medical professionals.

    But it can’t stop here – because the next thing on the horizon must be the abolition of any law against taking any drugs or stimulants.

    The laws against ‘hate speech’ that the secular left have pushed for stem from the other demand of this agenda: the “right” to feel good about yourself and not be disturbed by unwelcome moral and religious opinions.

    That is why the left is now strongly in favour of censorship and against free speech.

    Since I believe in the progress of the human race and freedom form sin, I cannot call this outlook ‘progressive liberalism’.

    My working title for those who hold this view is: Proponents of Maximal Bodily Autonomy.(PMBAs).

    • ‘Progressive’ is the ideological nonsense-word par excellence. We have all seen people use it as though everyone agrees what it means!! They wish. Good try.

      People disagree, of course, about what counts as being progress: one person’s progress is another’s regress. The only hope, therefore, is to consult maximally objective data about how agreed goods (health, happiness, educational success) are achieved. Once we do that, we find marriage and religious involvement to be the two main predictors of happiness and marriage to be the key predictor of health (stats on request).

      To classify people who agree with you and your peergroup lifestyle as progressive and those who disagree as regressive is philosophically nothing more profound than ‘boo’ or ‘hooray’. It is inaccurate, simplistic, and insulting, and also solipsistic. Worst: it is an attempt to sidestep debate, which is what people who know they will lose the debate always do.

      Similar is the claim to be on the right side of history. History is massively complex, in fact, and does not move in straight lines. Pendulum swings can also be discerned. Such claims can only be made in a socienty which (a) learns a lot less history than previously, (b) cannot imagine that its own generation is not the apogee and barometer.

      Everything that has been said about the word ‘progressive’ applies in reverse to the word ‘reactionary’. It commits the philosophical fallacy of chronological snobbery. People can only approve older options because they are stick in the muds, never because they sensibly believe that merit and value have no necessary correlation to chronology.

  11. If anyone is unconvinced about the self-contradictoriness point, see this list (any reference you ask for will immediately be provided on request):

    (1) Marches involving hundreds of thousands of protesters or more (as in France repeatedly against same-sex marriage) ought rightly to be ignored by the media as unworthy of (much) mention. The demographic composition of the media has nothing to do with this.

    (2) The Lord’s Prayer must not be broadcast in cinemas but all kinds of quesationable and unverified secular and capitalist messages about the true way to happiness can be endlessly repeated there.

    (3) Actual ”abortions” are fine; pictures of the same (pictures which never killed anyone, and which could never exist unless the actual ”abortions” existed) are upsetting.

    (4) It’s immoral to ”abort” girls. To ”abort” both boys and girls? Fine!

    (5) Pro-life – that’s a lie: you don;t care if women die – this slogan makes sense even though maternal mortality is lowest and maternal care best precisely in Malta, Poland, Ireland and Chile.

    (6) A child can have an abortion without parental permission – but not an aspirin. Perish the thought (or was it perish the child? – it makes no odds).

    (7) A child does not need a parent’s permission or even knowledge to embark on a transitory unsafe sexual relationship even at 15; but that child does need parental permission to embark on a secure marital relationship at 16.

    (7) The more one supports same sex marriage, the less one should support marriage in general (this geneally holds whichever nation is in view).

    (8) Ex-gays do not officially exist, but homosexuals should comprise 8% of those who appear on the BBC. (In truth, exgays are far more numerous than present self-identified homosexuals.)

    (9) It is fine for someone to go the whole hog and reassign their entire gender. But to seek to change their mental desires (not across the board of course, but only in those select cases where the desire is to become more straight, less gay) is unthinkable. Scandalous.

    (10) Evidence of gender derived from every cell in their body or from genitalia etc is far less secure than that derived from transitory and unevidenced self-testimony from those who say they feel like the other gender even though they could not possibly know from within what the other gender does feel like.

    (11) The constituency which has lowest figures for abortions and broken families and early intercourse and drugs and STIs should learn at the feet of the constituency that has higher/-est incidence of *all* of these things.

  12. The article starts: “It is increasingly clear with each passing year that public life has been colonised by the zealots of a progressive creed of equality and diversity.” I think it would be better to have ended the sentence after zealots. The danger to freedom of speech, and the denigration of careful discussion, open enquiry, etc is from a populist simplifying of complexity, a binary approach, us and them, in-group and out-group. We see it from the Trumpian approach to politics, we saw it in the Brexit referendum. It is becoming more prevalent across so many issues. Loud and shrill, and quick to name the enemy. It is part of fundamentalist world-views, and church groups are not immune, and never have been.
    The desire for power, and the temptation to abuse power when offered it, have corrosive effects, both on others who are too easily demonised, and on the speakers who promote the views.
    Relativist individualism, also pervades our churches more than we would like to think – we choose, and we reject what we do not like. Maybe we justify it because we are right!!
    The NT world of Jesus also had zealots (arguable whether they had qualified for a capital Z at that point!), and the example of Jesus is very different, uncomfortably different. To use the rather simplistic summaries we often make of the “categories”, Jesus was neither zealot, nor “pharisee”, nor “priest”, nor Sadducee.
    We are sent as sheep among wolves; this article feels more like James and John wanting to call down fire on those who don’t agree with them. “And Jesus turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9:55)
    The more we are committed to the “truth” the greater our responsibility also to be open to the rebuke of Jesus that we may have become judgmental.
    But becoming a zealot is not the only dangerous temptation. Some of us are probably in need of being challenged against complacency and being lights shining only in the environs of our arm-chairs.

    • “The danger to freedom of speech, and the denigration of careful discussion, open enquiry, etc is from a populist simplifying of complexity, a binary approach, us and them, in-group and out-group.”

      Are you talking about the BBC and most other broadcasting media in Britain today?

      Do you think those who control broadcasting – whether BBC, ITV, C4 or Sky – reflect fairly and representatively the actual demographics of British society?

      If you do, where is the evidence for this?

      • I wasn’t talking about the BBC, though I think the world of the sound-bite and the pressure of 24/7 news does mean simplified versions are all too often what is heard or read.
        Some providers have a party-line but give greater space to alternative or even opposing views; some less so.
        Many of us go to our preferred news provider (whichever that is), and that endorses our views and strengthens our sense of being right. Probably the same goes in our choice of Christian web-sites, or we go in order to respond, to prove a point, rather than to think we could learn.
        Online comments tend to be more abrasive (??) because we do not see the other person’s face, and we assume their view and their reason for holding that view. Time can be short and the “send” “submit comment” button awaits.

        • “Some providers have a party-line but give greater space to alternative or even opposing views; some less so.”

          But the BBC isn’t supposed to have a ‘party-line’ – but very few people think it is neutral or proportionately representative of Britain. Peter Sissons made this clear years ago and I don’t think anything has changed.

          For example, several of its political commentators (Wark, Kuensberg) are closely linked with the Labour Party. What prominent commentators in the BBC are linked with the Conservatives, UKIP or the Liberals? None that I can think of.

          The BBC itself has also said that about 8% of its staff identify as homosexual. That’s about 4 times the number in the population at large. A month of ‘Gay Britannia’ on the BBC. Why?

          And see what happened to ‘religious broadcasting’ in the BBC – before they dumped it.

          Since about 70% of the broadcast news in the UK comes through the BBC, it is hard to avoid the conclusion I reflects a certain metropolitan elite – not where most of the UK is.

          • “What prominent commentators in the BBC are linked with the Conservatives, UKIP or the Liberals? None that I can think of.”

            Maybe you haven’t looked very hard. The BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson, who was national chairman of the Young Conservatives. Robbie Gibb (political editor of BBC for years) became Theresa May’s Director of Communications. Andrew Neil previously worked for the Conservative Research Department.

          • The operative words were ‘are linked’. I knew about Robinson’s student association. I meant the BBC as it is now under Labour operative James Purnell – with Wark and Kuensberg.

            Where are the UKIP, Green and Liberal people in the BBC?


          • Your characterisation of the BBC as being under Labour operatives is bizarre. As far as I am aware Andrew Neil is still involved. Robbie Gibb only stepped down in July of this year (so presumably until then the BBC was under Conservative operatives). Laura Kuenssberg was the subject of a petition in 2016 complaining of bias against the Labour party. An interview she conducted with Jeremy Corbyn was the subject of an official complaint over the negative way in which Corbyn was portrayed through editing (a complaint upheld by the BBC Trust). She has needed (sadly) a bodyguard to be present at the current Labour Party Conference.

            As for UKIP voices, Nigel Farage is eleventh on the list of most appearances on Question Time, despite never having been elected as an MP. UKIP has been disproportionately represented over the last few years.

          • Again you miss the point. Kuenssberg is not anti-Labour but anti-Corbyn – as are many Labour people. Wark is very close to Scottish Labour and central to ‘Newsnight’ – which nobody watches now.

            Question Time usually has a leftist tilt – certainly in the bizarre way they choose the audience.
            This is where the BBC’s bias comes out worst – in attempted social engineering.

    • “We see it from the Trumpian approach to politics, we saw it in the Brexit referendum.”

      I see plenty of attacks on Trump in the media – and likewise most media pundits (Snow, Faisal Islam, Nick Robinson etc) attack Brexit in their tweets etc.

      Is this what you mean by ‘zealotry’?

  13. I wonder if there is some correlation between Will’s excellent essay and the rise of the internet. The next question to consider is how do you counter it?

  14. Just to add to my comment above, the philosophical roots of modern progressive authoritarianism are better found in the work of ’60s New Left writer Herbert Marcuse, particularly his 1965 essay Repressive Tolerance, although its roots go much further back to Leninism, Marx, and the Jacobins.

    Blurb version: in Marcuse’s words, “Suppression of the regressive [opinions] is a prerequisite for the strengthening of the progressive ones.” People must be protected from themselves by the educated elite and brought to enlightenment. Nothing but false class consciousness in a cheap tux.

    It’s less nihilism than the worst kind of religious fervor, misdirected to politics, with political ideals deified and treated as absolute truth. They’d have gotten on famously with Tomás de Torquemada; at least, until they denounced one another over a comma and raced to have their former ally enlightened in a most painful fashion.

    • Hi James

      Thanks for bringing up the role of the Frankfurt School and the New Left (or cultural/neo- Marxism as it’s sometimes called). I agree that Marcuse and other Marxists were very influential in certain quarters. But to see the authoritarian character of the current progressive narrative as rooted purely in that school of social theory is, I think, to give it far too much credit. It just doesn’t have the scope of influence and favour it would need to account for the pervasive cultural assault on freedom of conscience and traditional forms of morality that we are experiencing. For that I think we need to look to the subtle logic of the wider Western intellectual traditions, where we find an across the board rejection of absolute morality and thus the idea that a moral claim can be true in an objective sense. We find arguments for freedom grounded on arguments against morality in e.g. Berlin, Rawls, Hayek, Sartre and so on.

      I think neo-Marxism has played a role in bringing us to where we are, but I think its role is often overstated. Western progressives (or whatever you want to call them – they usually consider themselves progressive) didn’t become authoritarian solely through the influence of Marcuse and the Frankfurt School. The conditions for authoritarian attitudes lie in the Western traditions as a whole, and in particular in the decisive shift away from belief in moral truth and thus to relativism, subjectivism and individualism. That’s why Western culture in general, and not just Marxists and radical leftists, have shifted to an authoritarian stance towards conservatives (or whatever you want to call them). Rawls’ exclusion of religion and pro-life positions from the scope of public reason is a case in point – and he wasn’t inspired by Marcuse and was no Marxist.

      • Yes, I agree that Marcuse wasn’t directly responsible (he’s become something of a bogeyman among right-wing intelligentsia, out of all proportion to a relatively obscure figure). He did, however, articulate an authoritarian current that became influential in the New Left, and spread throughout the academy and professions, from Critical Race Theory to the anti-pornography arguments of Catharine MacKinnon.

        Marxism’s role is certainly overstated: identity politics have long escaped their New Left moorings and floated free. When speaking to, to use the awkward neologism, SJWs, it’s striking that most know little if anything about the roots of their beliefs, let alone dry Marxist theory. If anything, in scorning the desire of the Rust Belts to regain manufacturing jobs, many unknowingly voice neoliberal dogma.

        I disagree that relativism’s to blame: that’s for the po-mo crowd, influential in literature departments, but of vanishingly little importance generally. Authoritarian progressivism’s so zealous ’cause it believes in absolute truths, and treats its opponents as heretics. Like I said down-thread, if anything, it draws on the worst religious impulses.

        • The point really is that Marxism was never committed to tolerance, freedom of conscience or human rights, so the fact that Marcuse, the New Left and neo-Marxism weren’t either doesn’t really explain much. The question is why a culture generally committed to these things has become so inimical to them so widely and at the highest level. The spread of Marxist influence since the 60s will play some part. But the reason the broader culture was susceptible to that was it already contained the seeds of the authoritarian impulse in its abandonment of the grounds of human dignity and freedom in the form of moral truth. It already saw that to prevent ‘conceptions of the good’ from being imposed on society it had to ban them from the scope of ‘public reason’ and from informing the ‘basic structure of society’ (to use Rawls’ formulae).

          Relativism in the sense of believing that to all intents and purposes individuals should be left to live according to the truth as they see it or define it (their ‘conception of the good’) is not limited to literature departments, it is at the core of the modern secular creed and its idea of progress.

  15. Thanks, Will, for a well-written essay (and to you, Ian, for running it).

    The so-called Progressive movement grows more absurd in its premises, words, and behaviors by the day. It’s been said that inside every Progressive is a totalitarian struggling to get out, and that certainly is the implication if their trajectory continues.

    I take comfort, however, in the maxim that “What can’t go on forever, won’t.” The threatening absurdity of the Progressive movement is already producing a greater willingness – at least here in the U.S. – to recognize what is happening, to stand up and oppose it. This was the major factor behind the election of Trump (imperfect vessel that he is) and I hope we will soon see an inflection point as society recovers its senses.

  16. Yes. I think there are several reasons why it cannot last:

    (1) It is self-contradictory in so may ways, and is therefore disconnected from reality.

    (2) The proponents are in love with the Zeitgeist, and this will soon become old-fashioned. (However, selfishness will never go out of fashion.)

    (3) People don’t like being dictated to. How much less do they like being dictated to when the words dictated are things like ‘The Emperor has clothes’?

    (4) Just as there is no honour among thieves, destructive types can destroy themselves from within through civil war, internally combust. Think how Paul played the Pharisees and the Sadducees against each other so that they took their eyes off the ball (the ball was Paul). Then watch 2 different trans parties battling it out in Hyde Park last week. To us they may be similar, but to each other they are poles apart (just like in all civil wars, even within the church: the ones who differ in one respect alone are the most frustrating). That is why we see people like Germaine Greer whom we in our innocence would class as arch-progressives being shunned by the present progressives. What is their view of the rest of us then? I guess it is as though we may as well not exist.

  17. Some of us may recall swimming in the sea as groups of children while our parents sat on the sand. It was startling suddenly to notice that our parents had slid sideways some distance along the beach. Of course it was the tide which had ever so gently nudged us away from where we had started without us noticing because we were busy having fun.

    And so it has been with the changing attitudes in western society, reflected almost perfectly in parts (but not all) of the Christian church, and now enforced with a level of intolerance and coercion which, at this point, you would have to be brain dead not to notice. And there’s something pretty disturbing when it sweeps simultaneously through all our political parties, our institutions, universities, the media, and the entertainment world accompanied by a lockdown on free debate (where you speak exactly as you find) and the kind of ‘hate speech’ legislation which places selected groups of citizens as individual arbiters of when a ‘crime’ has been committed.

    But such ‘debate’ as there has been, characterised by the sheer intolerance of one side (http://archbishopcranmer.com/tag/jayne-ozanne/), has been instructive in laying bare the fruits in people of the ideology to which they have become enslaved. And ‘enslaved’ is exactly the word which describes a situation where you have lost the freedom to think for yourself.

    And it’s no surprise that in such a situation people are no longer willing or able to engage in rational discourse; so instead we get all the vacuous adjectives and nouns: ‘hateful, homophobic, transphobic, bigot, racist, fascist’ etc. For me, observation of this dreary fruit reinforces the joy of not being captive to such confusion, but it is tempered by knowledge of how widespread such captivity has now become, sadly in secular and Christian circles alike.

    Where it threatens our own church, as it surely now does, one has to admit to real distress which has only one effect on faithful people: be honest and speak up.

    Your thoughts have been well said, Will, and many of us share them.

    • Jayne Ozanne said in the C of E Newspaper that the desires of homosexual people are not promiscuous than those of heterosexual people.

      Desires aside, the outcomes certainly are, on average.

      She then said that no-one was allowed to have a contrary view published.

      She also cited no evidence in favour of her view!!

      If that is not dogmatic totalitarianism, I do not know what is.

      The rest of us have to debate if we want our views to be accepted.

  18. I find it interesting that this article follows the “16th Sunday after Pentecost” Year A in the liturgical calendar where all the readings (Exodus 16,Jonah 3, Psalm 105 and Matthew 20) focus on groups of people or individuals who find reasons to complain at their treatment – often at the hands of God. In the final liturgical reading, Philippians chapter 1 reminds us how “undeserving” we are in the face of Jesus’ sacrifice and exhorts us to “die to self” and live for Him who did not grasp for equality.

    Has “dying to self” disappeared from Christian living?

    • But this is not really about complaint at treatment, Beryl.

      The title refers to the ‘anti-freedom’ characteristics of ‘progressives’, and wonders why. Of course the frame of mind which is anti-freedom can hardly avoid treating others badly, but the fundamental issue is the intention, built in to the ideology, to withdraw the freedom of others. Jesus gave as good as he got but nowhere did he try to withdraw the freedom of those who opposed him.

      As already noted in some comments here, it is true that some progressives are open to fair debate and will speak up against coercion; but I would suggest that the great majority simply want to shut down debate and enforce their ideas on a silent, acquiescent population. Speaking out against that kind of intolerance is not born of self pity in the face of one’s own treatment; it is a duty, sometimes a costly duty, for all who love the freedom that comes from knowledge of the truth.

  19. This attempt to smear all ‘progressives’ for the actions of some and make out that their power is greater than it is falls flat. For instance in the case of the housing manager who was demoted, it might just be relevant that both Peter Tatchell and the chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement spoke out against his employer’s actions and a tribunal found in his favour.

    Some Christians in the West opposed to greater inclusion have aligned themselves with overseas church leaders campaigning to have yet more LGBT people locked up in appalling conditions and fanned the flames of sometimes murderous hatred. Others have backed Donald Trump, who thinks that armed neo-Nazis can be fine. But to make out that all such ‘conservatives’ hold these views would be bearing false witness. I wish that the writer of this article had shown the same scruples.

    • I agree that this article unfairly tars all progressives with the same brush, using cherry-picked anecdotes reported with, to put it generously, a rightward slant. To give Dr. Jones the benefit of the doubt, it was poorly argued in general, and such generalizations may’ve been unintentional. I criticized its arguments specifically because I’m sure he’s capable of a much stronger piece (we’ve all had off-days, I certainly have!).

    • Hi Savitri

      I enjoyed the Common Good event at Bloomsbury.

      Peter Tatchell regularly finds himself opposed to PC because he is an egalitarian and (supremely) a human rights campaigner. But not that many follow his lead. Therefore we have a problem, whose name is unexamined ideology (a kind of power politics designed to achieve desired ends for some group or subgroup without actual two-way debate).

      Exception has been taken to unthinking unexplained use of ‘progressive’ and the same can be said about your use of ‘inclusion’. If things were as simple as you say re ‘inclusion’ then who would disagree with you. But in fact very many of those intelligent and fair people who believe in inclusion of everyone do not believe various unbelievable things:

      They do not believe that we should accept the same categories into which you divide people up before saying that all these categories should be included.

      Who has the right to prevent others of us making different classifications?

      We may, for example, not accept the terms gay or homosexual as implying an innate state as opposed to an acquired state; but things that are acquired not innate cannot be a main classification for anyone. The situation is greatly hindered by the failure to engage with the evidence for circumstantial and environmental causes. Are people afraid of doing so? That itself potentially suggests dishonesty; an unwillingness for the results to be unwelcome ones. But by the law of averages many or most investigations will not produce the results we would have wished for. Our wishes have no relevance here.

      And we certainly do not accept the idea that a man is a woman, or is ‘trans’. They are a man in every cell of their body; that being the case, it would be extremely hard to mount a case that they are even 50-50. And also in their genitals. And biology is a harder science than psychology, therefore trumps it. And how would a man know how a woman ‘feels’ anyway? Nor do we accept an anorexic’s view of themselves which goes against the evidence, so what is the difference with trans people? And why are people allowed to describe their gender against the evidence but not their height? Why am I not allowed to say I am a 68-year-old 6foot1 Chinese lady?

      The hounding of those who want to say things that are quite obviously true is quite dreadful and people wonder why more are not speaking out against it. Where truth is a casualty of ideology, that can be the first step not only to producing conscienceless mendacious people but also to negative political systems taking root.

    • What I understand you to be saying, more or less, Savi, is that this essay is mistitled, that its title should have been “Why are SOME ‘progressives’ so anti-freedom?”, and that one could write a similar essays entitled “Why are SOME ‘conservatives’ so anti-freedom?” and “Why are SOME ‘Christians’ so anti-freedom?”. If so, you are absolutely right.

      • Hi William

        It’s not just some progressives, it’s the way that the progressive agenda is currently being implemented by governments and those in authority in all spheres. The article aims to explain why this might be.

        A similar article might be ‘Why do evangelicals oppose gay marriage?’ which looks at what inspires evangelicals to oppose same-sex marriage. You don’t need to add a clumsy ‘some’ or ‘many’ or ‘most’ to the title to make it valid. It obviously means ‘what is it about evangelicals which leads so many to oppose same-sex marriage?’ (answer e.g. their theology and what the Bible says).

        I do make clear in the article that it is not all people who call themselves progressive.

        But anyway, I didn’t mean to cause offence so apologies, it is just aiming to be an explanation of a well-recognised phenomenon.

        • Indeed, William. I think however if one regards all initiatives aimed at increasing equality as mere examples of a nihilistic spirit, from improving police responses to racist murders such as that of Stephen Lawrence to making buses accessible to people in wheelchairs, things might indeed look bleak; but I hope that the author accepts that at least a few such measures might be motivated by the wish to be just and compassionate, whether or not he agrees with them.

          • Hi Savi.

            I don’t think you’ve understood the argument. It’s not an argument against social progress through pursuing justice. I am clear that there are progressives who support freedom of conscience etc and avoid relativism.

            It is an account of why the general implementation of the progressive agenda by government etc is becoming authoritarian and ceasing to respect freedom of conscience, religion etc.

            This is a well-attested phenomenon. I am providing an explanation. I obviously don’t mean that every person who identifies as progressive thinks in this way.

          • Will, what is your view on the ideological basis of authoritarian moves (including by a ‘Christian’ university) to punish athletes for peaceful protests in the USA and of attempts to block the popular musician Macklemore from performing at a sports event in Australia?

          • The fact that people other than self-styled ‘progressives’ can curtail freedom obviously does not make the self-styled progressives’ curtailings any better.

            This is an example of a common but large fallacy. For example: to say that the earth is a planet is not the same thing as saying that no other planets exist.

            This does however raise the question of the motives that lie behind people **wanting** to emphasise one party’s failing more than the other. (E.g.: ‘the Nazis started it!’ ‘No – it was the Communists!’)That is bias by definition; and given that scholarship is (by comparison with normal discourse) meant to show a higher level of disinterest, honest people are less likely to bother with output that shows signs of bias (or ideology) when there’s plenty that shows less or none.

  20. In my book “God and the Crisis of Freedom” (2002) I said that this is what happens when freedom becomes the only value, as it is in danger of becoming in western societies. I said it is very important for Christians to think about the notion of freedom. It attracted far less interest and discussion than most of my books. Christians who read books like books about the Bible but not about difficult ideas like freedom.

    • I disagree that freedom’s in danger of becoming the “only value” in the West: equality and diversity are just as, if not more, dominant; and both necessarily require restrictions on freedom, such as banning discrimination against certain characteristics in employment and the provision of goods and services.

      • James, I agree that equality and diversity are now just as important as freedom. This was not apparent twenty years ago. There is more concern now about economic inequality (at least in UK) than there was then. And the term “equal marriage” raised the profile of equality as a value in discussing sexuality.
        Actually, my book had little if anything to say about sexuality. I was more concerned with such things as consumerism, acquisitive individualism, break down of community, and notions of independence/dependence/interdependence. (Before everyone rushes out to buy the book [!!], I should say it is a collection of quite miscellaneous essays around the general theme, but it has two key essays on “Freedom in Contemporary Context” and “Freedom in the Crisis of Modernity” which try to explore the contemporary notion of freedom as individualistic independence of all authority and to sketch the contours of a Christian understanding of freedom rooted in dependence on God.)
        I wish someone would do some thinking and writing about the notion of diversity, which has rapidly become a buzz notion without most of us being aware of quite what was happening. Does it go back to thinking about comprehensive education in the 60s? or about multiculturalism more recently? How did the word come to be shared by activists in different areas – disability, sexual minorities, ethnic minorities, social class background? It obviously has positive value, but how do we distinguish between ways in which diversity is something to be valued and ways in which maybe uniformity is needed? (E.g. the rumbling discussion about how multicultural a society can be without some common values and aspirations to hold it together. Or what things need legislation and which can be left to individual choice?) I sometimes visit Japan, which is still a remarkably homogeneous society, ethnically and culturally, but now without much intolerance. I’m not at all sure why it should therefore be judged in some way “worse” than the ethnically and culturally diverse UK. This is not to deny that, given we here have such a diverse society in those terms, celebrating diversity is a good way of making it work. I just wonder about the way “diversity” seems to be treated as an absolute value and unthinkingly transferred as such across a variety of different areas.

        • Hi Richard

          Your book sounds very interesting.

          My understanding is that diversity is valued as it is taken as concrete evidence that equality is being supported. It seems to have come to special prominence following the Equality Act 2010, since the presence of diversity in protected characteristics within a workforce or leadership team really demonstrates compliance with the non-discrimination provisions (and an absence of indirect discrimination).

          Thus, for example, the Church Of England national institutions have recently been aiming to increase the diversity of their workforce by increasing the proportion of people of other religions (and by implication reducing the number of Christians). They have also been clamping down on prayer in the workplace. The aim, I believe, is to comply with the spirit of the Equality Act, and thus to show they are not discriminating on religious grounds.

          Since multiculturalism fell out of favour around 10 years ago diversity has also become a sign of making a contribution to the integration of minorities.

          You could also argue that diversity is the natural fruit of freedom.

          Diversity as a basic social value is, of course, quite problematic and necessarily limited, because it doesn’t sit well with social cohesion, civic trust and civic unity.

        • ‘Diversity’ means two things. Diversity A is difference. Diversity B is delightful and life-enhancing beneficial difference (e.g., biodiversity).

          Those who use the word without clarifying which of A and B they mean are insufficiently precise thinkers. Worse, they are probably trying to pretend that A does not exist, and that A and B are merged.

          This means that in their discourse difference itself is presented as being a good thing. Nothing could be more obviously untrue. Difference itself is obviously neutral. There could be 2 twins one of whom stole mobile phones and the other one of whom didn’t. That is a difference and a half.

        • Dear Richard

          You said:
          “…..And the term “equal marriage” raised the profile of equality as a value in discussing sexuality….” yet the law itself, in writing, shows that they are NOT equal and so we struggle with how fake the claims really are when others are trying a kind of argument on the assumption that the starting point is true – yet it is not.

          It is bad comedy. In comedy you start with a wrong premise and then logical build the case to a completely absurd crescendo.

    • After reading this through a few times from the perspective of a progressive, liberal Catholic, I am still not sure where this blogger is getting his notion of “progressive” from; at times it feels like he provides a false or at least intentionally vague explanation of progressivism, only in order to pillory it.

      Part of me wonders how these complaints will hold up in historical perspective. In the States we sometimes get public servants who want to exercise their private moral convictions instead of the laws as written (which indeed are always changing, and always have been, as long as there have been laws and societies); we call some of these people “Confederates,” those who objected to the radical imposition of the new and liberal abolitionist order, which was truly disruptive to society as they enjoyed it.

      As to the premise that progressives are “anti-freedom;” in the politest of terms this seems like a disingenuous representation of the issue, or at least an extremely self-centered understanding of the conflict writ large. True, Christian ideas and expectations are becoming less dominant in the public sphere, but it doesn’t really seem fair to describe that as being attacked by anti-freedom progressives. Not getting to enjoy every privilege to which we had become acclimated is not the same thing as oppression.

      • Hi Justin

        I’m not using progressive in any technical sense. Dictionary definition is someone who supports social reform. I am using it as a term for those who support what are commonly referred to (by their proponents and also sometimes by their opponents) as progressive causes. These are mainly causes of freedom, equality and diversity, usually understood from a point of view of personal autonomy. These ideas are supported by the main traditions of Western academia. I don’t believe this is controversial, and the term is intentionally a non-pejorative one which the people it denotes often use of themselves.

        I can see we have different interpretations of what freedom of conscience and religion involve if you consider all the examples linked to in the second paragraph to be merely a matter of ‘not getting to enjoy every privilege to which we had become acclimated’!

        • Hi Will,

          Thanks for your reply! You wrote, “I can see we have different interpretations of what freedom of conscience and religion involve if you consider all the examples linked to in the second paragraph to be merely a matter of ‘not getting to enjoy every privilege to which we had become acclimated’!”

          That was my concern with your guilt-by-association strategy in your opening paragraph. Your litany of grievances contains some issues of real concern, like excesses of student/faculty censorship. But it also contains hyperlinked references to issues in which your analysis is less-sound–like your example of the unprompted North Carolina bathroom bill that targeted transgender citizens for special discrimination; you described this as “States [being] forced to comply with transgender demands over toilet facilities;” this seems like a somewhat misleading representation of the actual situation. But you grouped these examples of various quality together and interpreted them as equally symptomatic of a cultural trend; if you were publishing this in the States I would call this a conservative culture-war think-piece fit for a Fox News affiliate.

          You also said, directly in response to me, that you’re using the term “progressive” “as a [non-technical] term for those who support… mainly causes of freedom, equality and diversity, usually understood from a point of view of personal autonomy. These ideas are supported by the main traditions of Western academia. I don’t believe this is controversial, and the term is intentionally a non-pejorative one which the people it denotes often use of themselves.”

          I am having trouble squaring this very dignified and balanced treatment of progressives in our one-on-one conversation with your much broader and less-generous call to action against progressives at the end of your post: “Christians can of course be progressive in the broader sense, of being committed to a vision of human progress and improvement. But words are defined in large measure by usage, and these days to be progressive means to be an adherent of the ascendant ideology of the individual – relativist, sceptical, nihilist, cut free from any moorings in truth or reason. If some Christians wish to call themselves progressive and try to reclaim the word for a true vision of progress then that is a noble endeavour. But be under no illusion that what currently passes for progressive ideas is far removed from a Christian vision of the human good.”

          You seem to do an interesting thing here–you note the technical connotation of the word as essentially Christian, or at least the compatibility between “progressive” and “Christian.” And THEN you reject this compatibility on your own authority when you treat your own criticism (“words are defined in large measure by usage, and these days to be progressive means….”) as the working definition of “progressive.” Someone might call this an obvious strawman strategy, in which you don’t critique actual progressivism, but the weaker, flimsier notion of progressivism which you yourself built, in order to light us on fire.

          Overall, this is an articulate piece. I like your style, and I think we’re at odds largely because I am a real person on the receiving end of what seems like rhetorical abstraction for you.


      • I do think there is a danger in ‘being’ a progressive liberal Catholic (or to take any other labelled party position) before you start. Is it not better to be a truth-seeker and follow the evidence? It will lead to widely divergent places.

        There are trillions of issues in the world. Is each one of them resolved by applying a progressive liberal Catholic outlook?

        • “I do think there is a danger in ‘being’ a progressive liberal Catholic (or to take any other labelled party position) before you start. Is it not better to be a truth-seeker and follow the evidence? It will lead to widely divergent places.”

          I agree.

          Four or six years ago I was still firmly embedded in the conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist, Protestant tradition in which I had been raised.

          The “progressive liberal Catholic” perspective and identity I enjoy today is the outcome of exactly what you suggest–following the evidence and disregarding the discomfort. I haven’t resolved all ‘trillion issues’ in the world by embracing inclusive Christian values or Catholic theology and tradition–but the open and deeply ambiguous theological questions I spent years wrestling with? Those don’t plague me like they used to.

    • Dr. Bauckham,

      You mentioned your book “God and the Crisis of Freedom” (2002), where you suggested that “this is what happens when freedom becomes the only value.”

      I look forward to reading this volume and wonder what you would make of Karl Popper’s “Paradox of Tolerance” theory.

      – Justin

  21. Why the obsession with sex and gender? It is now 2000 years since the New Testament was written and we understand much more about human biology than the pre-scientific account presented there. Do you still believe mental illness is caused by demons? Why can’t believers simply lay hands on people and heal them?
    Being attracted to the same sex is perfectly normal – it has been a part of being human for as long as we know. It is biologically determined – it is not a bad habit you change.

    Without a doubt, many people are handling this poorly – especially by not allowing debate. But none of the things you are whining about are a problem for Christians or any really. Would you attack a mixed race couple over their marriage? Would you attack a person in a wheelchair for wanting access to a toilet? Should we take children away a mother or father if their spouse dies – because a mother and a father are “better” (evidence please) than have one parent or two parents of the same sex? I could go, but this is article was just plain silly. Every thing you hate is because of overwhelming ignorance on your part. Diversity training might be helpful, but not without an open mind.

    • Speaking generally, it’s less an obsession with sex than it is an devout belief in biblical authority, one that I don’t share. Sexuality’s just the presenting issue.

      The number of strictly homophobic Christians is, I’m sure, as low as the numbers in the general population: not talking about casual bigotry or insensitivity, but a pathological fear of gay people. If homophobia motivated the church’s focus on this, we’d expect it to’ve collapsed as soon as the culture shifted.

      But when biblical authority’s threatened, it’s a whole other ballgame. If it collapses, so will the foundations of many people’s faith. That’s why the churches are fighting so hard.

      • James you hit the issue on the head, the issue behind the issue is biblical authority.

        Michael, you have made a number of assertiins.
        Yes I do (And so do many many) Christians believe in demonic possession and oppression, because Jesus did. And I do believe that sometimes Christians can lay hands on people and God heals, because Jesus told us to do it and it’s a sign of the Kingdom.

        Most Christians don’t really debate about attraction but about behaviour (for use of a better phrase). I would argue the comparison with ethnicity and a disability are poor. Racism is discrimination in the basis of a skin colour, whereas not supporting homosexual relationships (for use of a better phrase) is about actions. However I can see how people equate them, but as Christians we constantly differentiate between who we are (in Christ or made in the image of God and what we do (ie if I lie, am greedy, oppress the poor….)

        As for an open mind, I’m well aware (& so are many others) that I (& the church pretty much catholic) could be wrong in this. If somebody could show me convincingly that my interpretation of the bible was wrong I would have to change and repent. But until then diversity training (as with everything, has to be filtered through a biblical worldview).

      • Biblical authority? How about the authority of peer-reviewed research on a whole host of fronts (unhealthy sexual practices, STIs, promiscuity, association with the family-splitting sexual revolution, association with drugs), regarding which ‘revisionists’ (ok I said it) change the subject every time it is mentioned?

    • Michael, there are several mistakes here.

      (1) You equate normal with right. Accordingly, selfishness, cheating, gossip, laziness, being normal, are good and right.

      (2) What we understand about human biology today includes that: (a) every single cell is XX or XY (we didn’t know that before); (b) biology is a harder science than psychology; (c) claims to be same-sex attracted are generally associated with circumstances post-birth, i.e. not innate or to do with who the person actually is or the way they were made. (d) They also arise in the age of irresponsibility, just as smoking and drugs begin (in some, weaker types of society) precisely in the age of irresponsibility. (e) Once taken up they become ingrained and are difficult to kick (‘addiction’).

      (3) ‘Whining’ is a loaded term. Are we not allowed to disagree without being inaccurately called whiners? People disagree and whining will not make their disagreement weaker in substance; failure to whine will not make it stronger.

      (4) A parent dying is unavoidable; wilfully separating a child from their parents is not. That is basic.

    • Micheal

      ‘Diversity training might be helpful, but not without an open mind.’

      Presumably you would accept that ‘diversity training’ is based on assertion (social science theory at best, political ideology at worst) rather than hard science and / or reasoning? Who decides on the content of the course? What are their qualifications? If someone takes the course and flatly disagrees with much or all of it, does that signify a ‘closed’ mind? Is there the imperative to take the course again until, like rerunning the Brexit referendum, the ‘correct’ response is achieved?

    • Michael, you use the term “pre-scientific” to get the reader to read the ideas as being untrue …… and therein lies your problem. Just because it is “pre-scientific”, which is itself a ridiculous unproven notion, does not actually mean that it is untrue.

      Pre-scientific wrongly implies that science only started recently in history and yet you actually have no evidence of when science “started” nor, even now, can science prove everything.

      Statements made at any time in history might still be true statements.

    • Why are you treating race and disability which are inborn in the same category as same sex attraction which is so far from being inborn that
      (a) babies experience no attraction of this nature and people are rightly going to find the very suggestion that they do a bit yucky.
      (b) no-one can remember their birth state anyway: memories begin at 2-4 years.
      (c) the large majority of study hitherto has pointed to the primacy of circumstantial and environmental factors in causing same-sex attraction (references oft-repeated, but also immediately available on request)?

      • “Why are you treating race and disability which are inborn in the same category as same sex attraction which is so far from being inborn that”

        Because they are the same. And babies know racism? Get a grip on reality.

        My advice. If some physicians claim they can “cure” your same sex attraction, run. Run fast. Run very fast.

        “Likewise, it is accurate to say modern progressives have become authoritarian, and the roots of that can be traced. The existence of progressives who don’t fit into that account doesn’t contradict it.”

        And modern conservatives are ignorant and proud of it.

        Clive – what meaningless drivel.


        • Michael, it is telling that you did not address the question. Normally the reason that people do not address the question is that they find it hard to answer it.

          Do you put ‘sexual orientation’ in the same category of inbornness that you put pigmentation and gender? (Yes/no). If not, how would you define your position on this?

  22. “it’s less an obsession with sex than it is a devout belief in biblical authority, one that I don’t share. Sexuality’s just the presenting issue.”

    Thank you James – you are right – for many, me included, this does boil down to Biblical Authority and not an obsession with sex. However, its not as you imply a desire to defend Biblical authority against threat of collapse fearing if the Bible collapses, our faith collapses – we don’t fear that. It’s more that we want to honour the Lord above all things, and we believe that his will and his ways, revealed in his infallible Word, and rightly understood and applied, are true and good for society.

    • Biblical authority? – comic. Which parts of the Bible?
      So the Bible is right about demons? Seriously? I hope you never suffer from mental illness.

      • Michael- The bible is right about everything, Including demons.
        And I have suffered debilitating bouts of anxiety/depression. The Bible was a great comfort.

  23. Thank you for writing such an astute, important and discerning summary of our culture today and its disastrous affects upon genuine freedom in society and the notion of absolute truth. If all things are relative, then we have absolutely no basis, foundation or guide for moral living – everything simply becomes ‘true as I see it’ with real dissent, anger and hostility towards anyone who thinks different. We’ve recently seen this in the political arena when the Prime Minister struck a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party. The pros and cons of such an arrangement were completely drowned out by the DUP being lambasted and lampooned for being socially conservative. When did it become a crime to be socially conservative?

    The ‘itching ears’ of 2 Timothy 4.3 immediately comes to mind, “when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to what their itching ears want to hear.”

    Whereas Jesus reminded his disciples that if we hold on to his teaching, the truth will set us free (John 8.31).

    All of us as Christians and especially those of us in positions of leadership must stand up and encourage our Bishops and Archbishops to stand up for the truth and stand against the secular tide whatever the pressure, pain or cost.

  24. I think the basic problem with the term “progressive” (used by the advocates of “progressivism”) is that it is a claim to be on the right side of history. That in itself carries a danger of authoritarianism. It is why the French Revolution turned into terror. At least in the UK, I don’t think the term “liberal” carries the same overtones, given the very long history of the use of “liberal” and “conservative” in British politics. So I think the currency of the word “progressive” (which in politics seems, in my observation, to date from the “remainer” reaction to the EU referendum) is a dangerous development. In the reactions to the referendum it was combined, significantly, with remarkable anger and with a claim that the old were overruling the young.
    A claim to be on the right side of history was also characteristic of the way the Christian church was infected with intolerance in the wake of Constantine.

    • “A claim to be on the right side of history was also characteristic of the way the Christian church was infected with intolerance in the wake of Constantine.”

      Isn’t that the meaning/origin of the word ‘secular’, as in ‘golden age’? They considered themselves to be part of the age that everything else has been leading up to, or towards? It is a wonderful irony that every major civilization since the Babylonians has thought that of itself.

    • 1. Precisely – ‘progressive’ is an authoritarian word.

      2. It is also an insulting word, that brands everyone else as regressive.

      3. That branding as regressive is covert and surreptitious. Therefore users of this word are regularly dishonest.

      4. That branding is of course also completely untrue, because it commits chronological snobbery, a well-recognised philosophical fallacy.

      5. Also ‘progressive’ means that history has a single direction of travel, which is inaccurate.

      6. Also, people expect to be allowed to use the word progressive without being challenged. We are meant to take it for granted that it is a kosher word for normal discourse.

      Everything is wrong with the word. I cannot think of a single word that more things are wrong with.

      Nor can I think of a single thing right with it.

      • Hi Christopher

        People who advocate for social reform in line with ideals often call themselves progressive because they believe that the changes they want to bring about constitute progress. Those who oppose them are often called (and call themselves) conservative, because they do not believe that the reforms actually are progress and they wish to conserve what already exists (possibly with some tweaking and improvements). I don’t personally see anything wrong with this terminology as long as we all bear in mind that the progress being referred to is disputed. But surely that’s obvious since the very existence of the term implies that only some portion of people support the move?

        More generally those who think society ought to be and can be more equal will call themselves progressive, and those who think it is already as equal as it can or should be call themselves conservative. Again, I don’t see any problem with this. There is a hidden assumption that greater equality always equals progress, but as long as everyone is aware of that assumption and that it is precisely what is (usually) in dispute then this all seems fine to me. ‘Conservative’ as the opposite is a similarly value-laden term, since it implies that what the conservative wants to conserve is something worth conserving i.e. it is good.

        • I wish I could agree, but I don’t. ‘Conservative’ means you think it is best, or best in a given instance, to keep things as they are. That is a neutral and accurate description of an opinion. ‘Progressive’ means you want humankind to make progress. That is not an opinion, it is a given, practically a tautology – what else would anyone want?

          Can anyone produce an argument that defends self-styled progressives from the charge that they automatically brand others as regressives? Is that not inevitable from the meaning of the term?

  25. I think this is a great polemical piece, worthy of a newspaper perhaps, and I do agree it’s well written, but I don’t think it’s great ‘essay’ and find it unconvincing as a case against progressivism. I don’t think I’m going to make any headway with my slightly-too-liberal (from my perspective of course) friends if I shared this with them.

    I have to ask then, what was your purpose in writing it Will? I don’t think you’ll succeed in convincing progressives of their error of their ways, so all you’re doing is affirming what many of us already accept is the prevailing narrative in our afterglow-culture.

    I suppose I share many of Jonathan Tallon’s comments, although because I actually agree with the bulk of what you are trying to say. I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to rubbish it, or describe it as a “dull rant” though. I have two major problems that prevent me from being more supportive of this.

    Problem 1: As many have already pointed out, your definition of ‘Progressive’ is unhelpfully broad, and defined only at the end. It does feel that use of the word progressive here is simply “anything I don’t like”, and it feels like you threw out a lot of examples hoping some would stick. Besides, what you spend much of the article railing against is the evil of moral relativism, not progressive ideas per-se. There are plenty of progressives who reject the mish-mash world of individualism and the ‘believe-what-you-want’ mantra of modernity every bit as much as you do.

    I don’t usually agree with some of what I think could be described as ‘progressive’ commentators on here, but I do not think it is fair to throw them under the bus with such broad criticism.

    Problem 2: Many of the concerns you rightly raise and point out concerning the trends of the radical-left are shared equally, and are even mirrored by modern conservatism and the radical-right. The problems are not unique to only one side. For every Jayne Ozanne there is a Milo Yianopolis. Where the type of progressives you describe (and I relalise I’m being a hypocrite by using that word undefined myself) seek a world where boundaries are erased, the conservative reaction has been one of drawing those boundaries evermore tightly and strongly. That is equally unhelpful, and similarly dangerous.

    Criticism aside, I think this paragraph:

    “Now, as Christians it is important to say that our alternative is not to deny the significance of the individual and individuality, but to put them in a proper perspective and to stand them on their true ground. God created humankind in his own image – conscious, rational, creative, free – as individuals and not just as collectives, as persons and not just as a species. It is as individuals that we take responsibility for ourselves and others, and as individuals that we will stand before our Maker and give account for our lives. It is this commitment to personal responsibility that ultimately leads Christians to support religious freedom and freedom of conscience.”

    is exactly where you should have started.


    • Hi Mat

      My main purpose in writing this kind of piece is to set out my understanding of something in a way that others might find engaging and helpful. This seems to have succeeded in this at least for some people. Not everyone has already figured all this out like you have, Mat! And they may find this kind of thing helpful.

      There have been a number of comments about the term progressive. I used the term instead of something similar like liberal because I think it has less of a pejorative edge when used by a critic and is more likely to be one that the people it is denoting use of themselves and the causes they support.

      It isn’t a technical term, just a name for people who hold to certain ideals (typically equality, diversity, freedom etc.) and are engaged in supporting social reform to achieve them (the dictionary definition of progressive).

      The piece evidences an increasingly authoritarian tendency in these people (not in every individual obviously, but in the overall approach to progressive goals) and traces this to the shift away from absolute morality and truth in Western intellectual traditions (‘right-wing’ as well as ‘left-wing’) in the 20th century. The point is not that every person who calls themselves progressive or considers themselves committed to progressive ideas is relativist, nihilist etc.. But that the shift in Western thinking and culture away from ideas of absolute truth and morality to subjective/psychological/individual-relative ideas of what is good and true is the primary influence behind the modern ‘progressive’ understandings of equality, freedom, diversity etc.. The shift also explains the authoritarian impulse because of its foundation not on being true (and thus on reason) but on being neutral and respecting the individual’s autonomy in defining truth and goodness for himself.

      • “Not everyone has already figured all this out like you have, Mat! And they may find this kind of thing helpful.”

        Haha, rebuke taken, I had not meant to sound so holier-than-thou. Sorry. A couple of other things though..

        First, I did not mean as if to sound that I was scornful of those who may not have come to these realisations yet; rather I just felt that this might not be the best way to introduce that counter-narrative to people. For those who are becoming disaffected with the current cultural narrative, the alternative needs to be appealing, and this just felt more of the same. Am I wrong? I obviously agree that it is very serious, and the issues very imminent/relevant, but I’m not sure in general that this is the best way to challenge it. This all feels just a bit too ‘sandwich-board-and-megaphone’ for my tastes..

        Second, I think you couldn’t really avoid a pejorative tone whichever word you had chosen. Because you were going to be negative, a certain amount of negativity was going to be attached and that’s precisely why you should have defined it. Honestly, I find the term “cultural revolutionaries” better captures the atmosphere: people who are bent on upsetting, or radically revising the established social order, but in a way that goes far beyond the natural, and expected, processes of social change. As I said, I am confident I knew what you meant, but another may not have done. I think it lacked nuance, which is why I described it as polemic, and not essay, which I hope you take as fair criticism: there is nothing wrong with polemic.

        Third, I agree with everything you said in the final paragraph. The trouble is, that’s not very clear from the the article proper.

        Don’t be discouraged though. I may have been critical on your previous article, but I am not saying it shouldn’t be here, or that you are somehow ‘wrong’. I just think that you often fall in the trap of being far more precise and amenable in the comments than you are in the article, and end up having to defend yourself too much when, to be frank, you don’t really need to.


        • Hi Mat and Brian

          Your distinctions are interesting and helpful. But the point of talking about progressives and progressive values is that these are terms which are in common usage for these things and which proponents themselves use. People don’t tend to think of themselves as cultural revolutionaries or MPBAs. Neither do they think of themselves as cultural Marxists, which is why I avoided that term too.

          Andrew Symes has just published a very good blog on the Primates’ meeting, and he talks about the ‘whole progressive secular movement which has captured the Western political and cultural establishment.’ http://anglicanmainstream.org/faithfulness-to-christ-against-the-odds-the-anglican-communion-and-the-global-sexual-revolution/.

          It is a standard and recognised term in the sense I use it, but to clarify my usage my first sentence does directly reference the equality and diversity agenda.

          • “It is a standard and recognised term in the sense I use it”

            But that’s just the point, no, it isn’t.

            If it were, then why are the people in the comments who would normally describe themselves as ‘progressive’ rejecting your description of them? The point is precisely that progressive is hard to define in any meaningful sense, and so clarity was needed.

            It is a particular type of progressive agenda you are rightly railing against, not all progressiveness. And anyway, you may have provided the context in your first sentence, and limited your usage slightly, but the title of this article implies otherwise.

          • Hi Mat

            I discuss towards the end that people might identity as progressive who don’t buy into the authoritarian agenda. But I say this isn’t the current prevailing view. I think that’s accurate. My definition should be clear from the 30 or so links that I give to illustrate what I’m talking about, if anyone is in doubt.

            It’s like if I were to say evangelicals are driving opposition to same-sex marriage and someone were to say well I’m evangelical and I’m not. That doesn’t change the general point though does it? I don’t need to qualify it with ‘some’ or ‘many’ to make it true. In fact that changes the meaning as it moves from talking about social phenomena to talking about groups of individuals.

            Likewise, it is accurate to say modern progressives have become authoritarian, and the roots of that can be traced. The existence of progressives who don’t fit into that account doesn’t contradict it.

          • Hi Will. Re Sykes. For some of us, it is deeply insulting to ascribe our motives, beliefs and actions to a ‘secular humanist agenda’. We may disagree but my views on social justice owe more to Methodism, than to Marx.

          • I’m content to disagree, and I’m glad you’re not finding my contribution onerous. I’d just like to query your ‘prevailing view’ remark, where I both agree and disagree with you.

            In agreement, I likewise find that authoritarian aspects of the progressive mood are by far and away the most vocal, the most prominent, the most reactionary and the most distressing to encounter if you sit in opposition…

            But in disagreement I simply don’t think that’s the majority consensus. They’d very much like it to be, but it’s a minority driving force, and most people are quite content to go-with-the-flow, rather than explicitly endorse or object to it. Shouting/rage silences people into a position of apathy.

            Also, I think we need to be careful about using progressive as a label for a social phenomena….

      • That’s why I offered my inelegant phrase ‘maximal -body personal autonomists’ – to identify where modern ‘progressives’ focus their thinking today: not in old-style state socialism (though many support that) and certainly not in freedom of speech: they very much want to control what kinds of speech they consider acceptable.

        That is why ‘progressives’ are, as observed above, inherently totalitarian: they ‘know’ what is ‘good’ for society and what stands in the way of this ‘good’. The anti-Christian Jacobin origins of this thinking should be clear.

        Freedom (undefined) is NOT one of their ‘goods’.

        On the other hand, unrestrained consensual sexual expression is valorised by them – as it was briefly in the early Soviet Union (although I doubt they approved on homosexuality then).

        And the concomitant is that abortion must not be restricted in any way; and speaking against abortion must be severely sanctioned (cf Jacob Rees-Mogg).

        But it goes beyond sex (as do our bodies if we live long enough!) . Drug taking and state-assisted suicide are therefore platforms to the ‘progressive’ agenda, for exactly the same reasons: ‘My body, my life, my decision’. And this is exactly what you have in the most unchurched parts of the United States (and Australia as well as the Netherlands, Belgium etc): the demand to decriminalise drugs and to promote assisted suicide.

        • Yes, I think that’s an excellent distinction. The progressives, in the sense that we are talking about them here, are much more concerned with removing restraint than they are about promoting freedom. Well said.

        • The reaction to Jacob Rees-Mogg was astonishing and even received top headlines. Would ‘The Pope is a Catholic’ similarly receive top headlines? Had he taken any other view, now that may have merited a headline.

          People call his position extreme, as though thinking it is probably or certainly not right to kill humans, given that it is not right even to harm them, is extreme!! Could anyone name anything *less* extreme and more obvious than that? It seemed to me that the contentious part of what he said was his willingness to let everyone have their own view, as though all views were equally coherent or well-researched or compassionate or unselfish.

          His views were just biology 101 and justice 101.

          • Christopher,
            Too bad his views on homosexuality are no biology 101.

            How can something that is completely biological be considered moral or amoral? That is the problem. That is why I brought up pre-scientific. You do realize that the phenotype is a result of the genotype + environment? no? “In-born” doesn’t just mean genes. You know this, right?

          • “How can something that is completely biological be considered moral or amoral?”

            So many errors in what you state, Michael.

            1. There is no simple mapping of homosexual affections to genes (like the colour of your eyes). If there was, identical twins would have a 100% concordance. They don’t. You know this, right?

            2. The best we can say about homosexuality is that it has many causes, from person to person, and genetics may be involved in pre-disposition but that doesn’t guarantee such an outcome. You know this, right?

            3. It is absurd to deny that environmental factors, upbringing, body self-image, shyness and introversion, trauma and abuse have no influence on how an adolescent’s developing sexual feelings – and that sexual feelings can be inverted and diverted to other objects. You know this, right? Your wording is extremely simplistic.

            No, perhaps you don’t (but a superior tone doesn’t help your case). Many of us here have read Socarides, Satinover, Spitzer and many others, as well Hamer and LeVay. If the ‘environment’ ( = upbringing) affects the genotype (and we *do know that), it follows that shaping the ‘environment’ (= upbringing) will influence the outcome.

            As for the morality of homosexuality: all kinds of paraphilia (paedophilia etc) along with gender dysphoria are not consciously willed – but that says nothing about their objective moral character or what an appropriate pastoral response is.

            But maybe you didn’t know that.

          • Michael, yes -if you scroll back you will see that I always headline the primary importance of environment here.

            Consequently if the UK provides a certain type of environment we are making people gay and then turning round and saying ‘look they are gay’ when it was our environment that made them so in the first place.

        • “On the other hand, unrestrained consensual sexual expression is valorised by them – as it was briefly in the early Soviet Union (although I doubt they approved on homosexuality then).”

          Slander pure and simple. Are you sure it wasn’t the Nazis?

          I can’t believe people this ignorant can write sentences.

          • Michael, you need to learn about the ‘free love’ advocates in the 1920s in the Soviet Union.

            Have you studied Soviet history?

          • Leninism 101: break down the family unit, as it’s the main obstacle to the state. How do you achieve this? Step 1, encourage sexual promiscuity, as they did indeed in the 20s. As Brian says, this is ignorant history.

            Additionally, I am more than happy to see the communist state slandered, it is objectively one of the worst and most evil ideologies humanity has ever inflicted upon itself and, largely due to comparison to the Nazis, does not get the criticism it rightly deserves.

            On the ‘sexuality as biology’ question, we can be certain that homosexuality is not genetic, but not categorically certain of the nature/nurture balance beyond that. Have a serious think about Brian’s rebuttal above. None of us are claiming what you seem to think we are.

  26. Let’s take two men who fall in love and marry (perfectly legal in many enlightened countries) and adopt children who would be left to the foster care system. They love and nourish their children.

    Several people here tell me that these individuals are corrupting both society and their children and should be prevented from love, marriage and parenting. Why – because it is supposedly in the Bible. And the Bible is never wrong and never changes.

    Why might I ask was it perfectly acceptable to participate in slavery until the 18th c.? What changed? Why was something that was deemed biblical no longer deemed so?
    Why might I ask was it perfectly acceptable to treat women as property until the 19th c.?
    What changed? Why was something that was deemed biblical no longer deemed so?

    Have any of you read the Old Testament? I would take these two men over the men with multiple wives, the concubines, the sex slaves, the fathers selling their daughters into slavery to pay their debts, the battle leaders executing prisoners of war. How about you? Whose side are you on?

    • A problem is that you have the perception that people object to ideas for the reason that they are not according to the Bible. I am not alone in objecting to ideas for the reason that they are not true and/or not coherent.

      The slavery thing has been answered repeatedly – the debate has already progressed, decades ago, beyond the way that you framed it – so why are people proceeding as though it had not progressed.

      (1) The Bible never praises or sings paeans to slavery.

      (2) It speaks of it as a reality as indeed it was.

      (3) To progress economically beyond a slave-system is not done in one day. It is also doubtful that it can be done at all before a certain point in economic development. Even the Athenian democracy (so-called…) had plenty of slaves. 200 years ago we had in UK a big-house economy. It is a step beyond a palace economy but still far from equality for all.

      (4) There is more slavery today than ever, in the view of some. It partly depends how you define slavery.

      (5) Most people have to answer to their bosses in a hierarchical system. Not as bad as slavery though.

      (6) The Christians at times went as far as they could without actually causing a counter-productive slave-revolt. Onesimus is a brother. The slave-trade is abhorred Rev. 18.13. The picture is not as you say it is.

      (7) Biblically (broadly) slavery is something acknowledged but not seen as a good, whereas homosexual practice is something condemned.

      (8) The Christian shifting in thought on slavery is limited to making those who were already equals as Christians equals in society as well. Not a large leap. From not-positive to negative.

      (9) By contrast, the shift you propose on homosexual practice is a 3fold about-turn! First we tolerate that which was condemned. Then we praise that which was tolerated. So: from negative to neutral to positive. You can see that this is a much bigger shift.

      (10) Of course change can happen in Christian thinking. But (a) it cannot happen in any random given instance of our own choice (!) – an odd thought; (b) it happens rarely. If the evidence is there, it should happen. The evidence (or: some central evidence) is that the present view of homosexual practice, no sooner has it been accepted and taken root, forthwith multiplies disease/epidemics and promiscuity and unhealthy ‘sexual’ practice, and is fairly constantly aligned with the family-splitting sexual revolution. It is therefore, to put it mildly, not something one should view positively. Nor neutrally. Nor negatively. Only very negatively – in exactly the same way as the biblical writers viewed it (as it happens).

  27. Michael, there are so many huge factors that you have not taken into account.

    Why is going against the universal biological pattern any more acceptable than agreeing with an anorexic who says they are fat?

    How could psychology possibly be anything but less of a hard science than biology?

    How come the attitude to homosexuality that you affirm is everywhere correlated with the sexual revolution that massively increases split and fractured families?

    How come that the vast majority of societies and eras have never seen these matters as an issue, nor (importantly) been asked to see them as an issue?

    How come those to whom these questions are put so regularly change the subject?

    Your use of ‘enlightened’ prejudges the issue. It insults everyone who disagrees with you as ‘unenlightened’. Prove it. Anyway, that is an awful lot of well-qualified ‘unenlightened’ people.

  28. I believe that one cause of the opposition to free speech among progressives is low intelligence. When an intelligent person encounters a view he dislikes, his first thought is: is this true? Can I show that it is false? What argument could I use? Finding a forum for one’s response is easy in the internet age. When a stupid person encounters a position he dislikes , he cannot think of how to refute it: therefore his impulse is to try to silence it.


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