Mormonism and the New Liberalism

Ralph C. Hancock
August 1, 2013

Mormonism and the New Liberalism: The Inescapability of Political Apologetics

I thank FAIR for the opportunity to address this audience on an important topic.  And let me note at the outset that, given the breadth of my topic and the short available time, I have had to set aside some nuance and attention to objections in the interest of clarity and directness.

Religion and Politics: Distinct, but Never Quite Separate

We normally like to keep religion and politics separate, and this is understandable.

The separation makes sense for political reasons, since it is often best to limit political debate to negotiable stakes, to values that can be quantified and compromised.  This strategy of lowering the aims of politics to reduce conflict is a fundamental strategy of modern liberalism, and it has very often served us well.

We also have properly religious reasons for maintaining the separation between religion and politics: our highest hopes and strongest duties refer to our eternal salvation, and we would not want these to be compromised or corrupted by entanglement with political interests and ambitions.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French interpreter of American democracy, saw this very clearly:

“When a religion seeks to found its empire only on the desire for immortality…, it can aim at universality; but when it comes to be united with a government, it must adopt maxims that are applicable only to certain peoples… Religion, therefore, cannot share the material force of those who govern without being burdened with a part of the hatreds to which they give rise.” (DA 283)

The LDS Church’s official and consistent position of political neutrality therefore makes perfect sense in light of its divine mission.

The Church does not:

  •     Endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms.
  •     Allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes.
  •     Attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to. This policy applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  •     Attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader.

And yet it is clear, on just a little reflection, that this wholesome distinction between religion and politics can never be an absolute separation, for the simple reason that certain common principles are essential to both. Tocqueville saw this with great clarity as well: religion and politics spring ultimately from the same source:

There is hardly any human action, however private it may be, which does not result from some very general conception men have of God, of His relations with the human race, of the nature of their soul, and of their duties to their fellows. Nothing can prevent such ideas from being the common spring from which all else originates.

Elder Robert Wood, Emeritus 70 and Political Science scholar, developed the same point before an audience of BYU students just a few years ago:

Religion and politics are now and always have been inextricably linked. It could not be otherwise. Politics is not only concerned with how do you get and maintain power and how do you order the political community and how do you distribute the benefits of the community, but as Plato and Aristotle pointed out a very long time ago, politics must necessarily raise the question of justice–which is to say, what is proper for man? What are the ends or the objectives of man and therefore what are the objectives of the political community? Now once you begin to think about that, you’ve just entered the area of religion. …

…institutionally as a church we have certain vital interests… [for example]  to insure that the communities in which we live will be morally healthy (which is to say, to reflect certain family and personal values which we believe are essential for the propagation of the gospel and are essential for the viability of any free community). So the church institutionally and necessarily has an interest in the political sphere because it affects even our mission as the Latter-Day kingdom.

Modern political theory has tried again and again to isolate political questions from religious questions, but this attempt must always fail.   Politics turns on the meaning of justice, on the question, what is right?  Or, in a more familiar formulation, on such questions as: what rights belong to individuals?  To communities?

James Madison made this point forcibly in Federalist 51:

“Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be, pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.”

And the question of justice or right cannot be determined without some reference, implicit or explicit, to an idea of the good: of what a human being is, what human life means and what it is for.

For example: Liberalism tries to insulate the question of justice or right from deeper moral and religious questions by proposing that an individual can do whatever he wants as long as his actions don’t harm other people.  But as soon as we ask, what counts as “harm,” we are beginning to touch on questions of that have a religious dimension.

[Is smoking harmful?  Is driving without a seatbelt harmful (to others besides the driver)?  Is pornography harmful?  Is sex between consenting adults ever harmful?  When one of the adults is paying the other?  Sex between an adult and a “consenting” child?  Or, to state a classic of contemporary liberalism:  can it possibly harm other people’s marriages if the definition of marriage is changed so that Jim and Joe can “marry.”  Such questions cannot be answered, they cannot even be addressed, without bringing to bear ideas of the meaning of human existence, of the human person or human nature, of “the good.”  Every understanding of rights depends on or is bound up with some conception of the good.]

Given the inextricable connection between the fundamental political question of justice and the question of the good, with its religious implications, we must expect that the Church’s position on political neutrality cannot be absolute:

The Church does:

  • Encourage its members to play a role as responsible citizens in their communities, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections. ….
  • Reserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church.

 

 The Sacred and Liberalism, Practical and Theoretical

Neither the LDS Church nor any religion can be wholly neutral concerning political matters, because no political order can be neutral concerning fundamental moral questions; every political order at least implicitly holds something to be sacred.  This was affirmed by John Stuart Mill himself, who might well be considered the founder of contemporary liberalism:

 “…in all political societies which have had a durable existence, there has been some fixed point; something which men agreed in holding sacred; [something] placed beyond discussion.”  (“Coleridge,” CW 10, 133)

If John Stuart Mill is right (as the whole tradition of political philosophy would confirm), then even the most “pluralistic” and officially skeptical regime or political order holds something sacred – there are some things that even Jon Stewart won’t laugh at.

What does contemporary liberalism hold sacred?  Before tackling this question, to avoid misunderstanding let us first seek some clarity concerning the term “liberalism.”

What is “liberalism”?  Well, as is obvious, liberalism is about liberty, or freedom.  And to be more precise, modern liberty is about the close connection between equality and freedom; it affirms equal freedom and free equality.  Equal liberty is the essence of modern liberalism.  A classic statement of the liberal understanding of politics can be found in the constitutional arguments of the American Founders, and in their philosophical sources, especially the English philosopher John Locke.

In a broad, “classical” sense, we’re all liberals now – we know the value of a written constitution that respects individual rights, limited government, etc.  Indeed conservatism, at least in the U.S., is bound up with liberalism in the classical and practical sense, the sense of the American Founders is, since it is this liberalism that conservatism wants to conserve.

But the New Liberalism I want to address goes far beyond this general, classical, political liberalism to make claims (rarely acknowledged) to define the meaning of human existence, to answer essentially religious questions about human purpose: it aims to replace a traditional view of what is sacred with a radically new understanding of human existence.

To make clearer this distinction between older and newer meanings of “liberalism,” I propose to trace it to the difference between “practical” and “theoretical” liberalism:  Practical liberalism is compatible with a traditional and religious view of morality and the family; in fact, it presupposes it.  Theoretical liberalism aims to replace traditional morality with its own view of human meaning.

Practical, institutional liberalism limits itself to political questions in the narrower sense: it affirms certain definite individual rights, limited government, constitutionalism, the separation of powers, and is designed to encourage and to work in the social context “pluralism” of interests, opinions.

But the pluralism of practical liberalism is not absolute, since it assumes a common, traditional framework of private morality, supported by a variegated but morally consistent religious belief.

Practical liberalism – including the liberalism of America’s Founders – took for granted the necessity of traditional morality in forming the character of citizens in a Republic.  And despite important differences among the Founders concerning the role of institutional religion, they all saw religion as an essential, positive force in republican self-government and, moreover, as an expression of the ennobling human interest in a higher Truth, a truth above human making.

There can be no more “mainstream” or consensual statement of the Founding generation’s positive view of the role of religion and religious morality in society than that of the Father of our Country, George Washington:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. .. [and] great pillars of human happiness, [the] firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. (Farewell Address)

Hardly anyone, or anyone of influence in 1787 or for a long time thereafter, would have considered Washington’s warm endorsement of religion and religious morality in any way controversial.  Even Thomas Jefferson, who was much more suspicious of traditional Christianity than most, and certainly a free-thinker in his time, never questioned the status of traditional morality under a free and republican government.  In fact he approved of criminal penalties for gambling, bigamy and homosexual conduct.

My point here is simply to emphasize that all the Founders agreed on what Tocqueville called the indirect role of religion in American politics.  And what Tocqueville meant by this was precisely the role of Christian morality in sustaining the stability of the family and thus of society in the midst of a democratic society in constant movement:

“Of all countries in the world, America is the one in which the marriage tie is most respected and where the highest and truest conception of conjugal happiness has been conceived.  …  Despotism may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot …. How could society escape destruction if, when political ties are relaxed, moral ties are not tightened?  And what can be done with a people master of itself if it is not subject to God.”

Tocqueville thus sees the same trade-off between moral discipline and the coercive power of law and government that Elder Christofferson explained in a recent Conference address:

The societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation failed to foster moral discipline. They have taught that truth is relative and that everyone decides for himself or herself what is right. Concepts such as sin and wrong have been condemned as “value judgments.” As the Lord describes it, “Every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god” (D&C 1:16). As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments.  “Moral Discipline,”  October 2009

Practical liberalism, which defined American politics and society for almost two centuries, recognized the dependence of political freedom on moral discipline.

Theoretical liberalism recognizes no such limits; it aims to stand on its own as an understanding of human existence, and so it must cast of all dependence on traditional morality and religion. This theoretical liberalism derives its premise from the radical beginnings of modern thought: there is no authority above human beings.   In America this premise remained largely buried under the actual practice of liberalism, as moderated by morality and religion, but it lay there like a ticking time-bomb that must eventually explode.

An early attempt to set off the explosion of the radical premises of liberalism into the practical life of societies can be found already 150 years ago in John Stuart Mill’s seminal On Liberty.  There Mill eschews any natural or divine ground or limitation of human freedom and rhapsodizes about the flourishing of radically self-defining individuality as a kind of new divinity, a “noble and beautiful object of contemplation.”

Quoting the German Wilhelm Von Humboldt, Mill identifies the “individuality” as the be-all and end-all of ethical development:

“the object ‘towards which every human being must ceaselessly direct his efforts, and on which especially those who design to influence their fellow-men must ever keep their eyes, is the individuality of power and development.’”

(Tellingly, Mill is left with the problem of reconciling this radical individualism with the imperative of the only true, scientific ethics: the utilitarian doctrine of the greatest good of the greatest number.)

How does this distinction between practical and theoretical liberalism play out in American history? To telescope a long story, we can say that the explosion of theoretical liberalism into the actual practice of American democracy was ignited in the cultural and political upheaval of the 60s and 70s.  Here we could cite the fundamental texts of 60s liberationism, such as Herbert Marcuse’s potent if inconsistent blend of Marx and Nietzsche.  But the United States Supreme Court has spared us the trouble of chasing down philosophical sources, by reading right into the Bill of Rights the radical doctrine of the liberation of the individual from any authoritative moral context or higher power.

This explosion of the New Liberalism in recent decades may account for Elder Hales’ observation in the most recent General Conference that the gap between the Church and the world has gone from “this big” to “THIS BIG”.

A remarkable and authoritative statement of this theoretical liberalism is this amazing pronouncement by Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in Planned Parenthood v. Casey:

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

Here the U.S. Supreme Court, or rather 5 members of it, constitute themselves High Priests of the New Liberalism by presuming to answer for the American people the ultimate question of what is to be held sacred, what is the character of the ultimate moral authority: their authoritative answer is that the meaning of existence is the individual’s own power to define the meaning of existence, unlimited by Nature or by God.

Now,  I realize that this radical formulation is hardly shocking to a contemporary audience, even an LDS audience, precisely because this New Liberal rhetoric has become quite conventional, almost routine, practically a matter of common sense.  But let me note that there is a huge and momentous step from the celebration of human freedom or moral agency to the emancipation of the human will from any authoritative structure of meaning.

President Packer pointed up this distinction very aptly in his most recent General Conference address:

We are free to choose what we will and to pick and choose our acts, but we are not free to choose the consequences. They come as they will come. Agency is defined in the scriptures as “moral agency,” which means that we can choose between good and evil.

To confuse moral agency, or the capacity and the duty to choose between good and evil, with the right to define good and evil, seems to be a very big confusion.

It seems clear to me that the Founders would have clearly understood the modern Supreme Court’s appeal to a radically individualistic right of privacy as part of a broader political agenda to substitute a new religion of individual self-expression for the traditional religion that the Founder’s Constitution presupposed.  And it should be noted further that this new religion of amoral individualism goes hand in hand with the political project of the unlimited state.  As James Stoner has written:

“The sovereign self demands protection by the sovereign state, and the intermediary institutions of society – family, school, business, and soon perhaps church as well –must yield…” (Common Law Liberalism 90)

To summarize, then: At the heart of the new, radical liberal vision is the assertion that there are no authoritative moral truths.    As Elder Oaks has said,

“I believe the diminished value being attached to religious freedom stems from the ascendency of moral relativism. …More and more of our citizens support the idea that all authority and all rules of behavior are man-made and can be accepted or rejected as one chooses. Each person is free to decide for himself or herself what is right and wrong. Our children face the challenge of living in an increasingly godless and amoral society.”

Moralistic Relativism

Of course few proponents of the New Liberalism would accept Elder Oaks’ characterization of their worldview at “relativist.”  Like leading liberals from John Stuart Mill to Justice Kennedy, they see themselves as motivated by a distinctive moral vision that is in fact superior to any traditional morality – more rational, more universal, more equal, more “progressive,” precisely because it is not tied to any particular understanding of natural or divine goods, or to the laws and limiting commandments that come with such a traditional understanding.  The good is the individual’s liberation from the good – this is the paradoxical core of the New Liberalism.

This paradoxical moralistic relativism at the heart the New Liberalism expresses itself in the most common rhetorical strategies of the New Liberalism:

One of these strategies is the idea of “progress.” “Progress” is a very convenient slogan, because it makes it possible to defer indefinitely the question of just where progress is supposed to be leading us, the question of the End or Purpose of Progress.   The End of progress is never articulated – and so we know only what progress is against, what it is we need to move away from, to leave behind: all traditional moral restraints, and in particular all binding norms governing sexuality, the complementarity of the sexes, and the natural definition of the family.  “Progressive” liberalism also tends to obfuscate the difference between the Founders’ practical liberalism and the New, theoretical, lifestyle liberalism; fundamental, qualitative differences are absorbed into a vague story of “progress.”

It is undeniable as well that genuine Christian sentiments often accompany expressions of this progressive, moralistic relativism.  There is such a thing, of course, as Progressive Christianity.  Most notably, the ethic of compassion allows the denial of authoritative moral standards to appear in moral and religious dress.  And there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of New Liberals’ concern for their fellow human beings.  But here is the problem:  how can you genuinely care for a person without some understanding of that person’s good, and of the moral rules that give access to that good?  How can the New Liberal distinguish a person’s true, eternal good from whatever seems good or feels good to the object of compassion?  True Christian compassion can only mean bringing people to Christ, and this is impossible without obedience to commandments.  But the New Liberalism eschews obedience to anything but the imperative of individual liberation itself.

Finally, “equality,” a central motif of the New Liberalism, certainly appears to function as an ethical norm.  But again, can equality be adequately defined without reference to some shared understanding of human nature and human purposes, as when Martin Luther King Jr. called upon us to look past the color of our skin to “the content of our character”?   If the principle of equality is applied to moral and religious principles themselves, then our character has no content, and the result is in fact relativism.

The genius of liberalism, and the key to its great power, is that it promotes a certain view of the meaning of human existence, while claiming to be neutral on the question of the good.  The New Liberalism pursues a certain moral vision only negatively, without having to take responsibility for any substantive moral principles, and it enacts this vision by criticizing, dissolving and undermining the authority of traditional morality and religion.

The New Liberalism vs. the Restored Gospel

Now, I come to my most important point, which to me seems rather obvious, but is somehow in fact quite controversial, at least among many intellectually or culturally ambitious LDS: This New Liberalism is not remotely compatible with basic LDS beliefs.  The New Liberalism posits open-ended individual self-expression –including, notably, sexual expression, however that may be defined by the individuals’ desires or supposed identity– as a fundamental right, as essential to the “dignity” of the person.  The opposition of this view to the Restored Gospel could not be clearer:  the Gospel situates sexuality within a distinctive view of the eternal destiny of the person, and subordinates sexual desire and expression to that definite purpose and to the commandments that serve that purpose.  It is fundamental to LDS teaching that the family is eternal, and therefore that sexuality must be expressed within the bounds that serve the person’s interest in the eternal family.

All this and much more is clear to every LDS who is even passingly familiar with the great Proclamation to the World on the Family published under the authority of the First Presidency and the Apostles in 1995.  This Proclamation would seem to present an insuperable obstacle to LDS wishing to reconcile their New Liberal commitments with Church teaching.

  • Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
  • …Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.
  • …We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

The opposition seems clear.  But in fact, as I have learned, a significant number of LDS who consider themselves and would like to be considered faithful are ready to discount the authority of the Family Proclamation and to subordinate it to the New Liberalism that they have adopted as an authoritative moral touchstone.  For them, a practically self-evident syllogism dictates this discounting of the Proclamation’s teaching:

The Church teaches moral truth; the New Liberalism (equality, progress, sexual freedom) defines moral truth; ergo: what the Church really teaches, or must one day teach, is the New Liberalism.

A significant division is thus emerging among LDS: on the one hand, the overwhelming majority of faithful LDS cherish the clarity and power of the prophetic teaching of the Family Proclamation; on the other, a small but active, articulate, intellectually ambitious and mutually reinforcing set of New Liberals have redefined the moral core of the gospel to reconcile it with the views now dominant among cultural and intellectual elites more generally.  These are self-described Mormons who have surrendered the moral citadel that governs basic beliefs about the nature and purpose of human existence to the dominant forces of secular culture. Religion thus becomes a hollowed-out shell occupied by the moral vision of the New Liberalism. According to this vision, the one fixed, sacred point of the moral universe is the idea of the individual’s right to define the meaning of his or her own existence.

Elder Maxwell understood very well, already decades ago, the political implications of the new amoral moralism:

“Decrease the belief in God, and you increase the numbers of those who wish to play at being God by being ‘society’s supervisors.’ Such ‘supervisors’ deny the existence of divine standards, but are very serious about imposing their own standards on society.” (The Prohibitive Costs of a Value-free Society, ENSIGN, Oct. 1978)

Prophets and Apostles vs. the New Liberalism

New Liberal Mormons are ever hopeful that the Prophet and Apostles will follow their lead and jump on the progressive bandwagon – or at least stop resisting it in such embarrassingly retrograde fashion.  These Progressives could not have found our most recent General Conference very encouraging of their efforts to re-interpret the restored Gospel according to a New Liberal vision.  On the question of the definition of marriage, in particular, the authorities whom we sustain could hardly have more emphatic:

Elder Ballard clearly taught, for example, that the eternal happiness of Heavenly Father’s Sons and Daughters is bound up with the differences and complementarity between the sexes:

“Men and women have different but equally valued roles. Just as a woman cannot conceive a child without a man, so a man cannot fully exercise the power of the priesthood to establish an eternal family without a woman.”

Elder Bednar reinforced this same fundamental and distinctive teaching of the Restored Gospel:

“The unique combination of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional capacities of both males and females was needed to enact the plan of happiness. “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11). The man and the woman are intended to learn from, strengthen, bless, and complete each other.”

Elder Bednar also removed any doubt concerning the sinful nature of homosexual practices, whether or not they are covered by a new legal definition of “marriage”:

“[M]arriage between a man and a woman is the authorized channel through which premortal spirits enter mortality. Complete sexual abstinence before marriage and total fidelity within marriage protect the sanctity of this sacred channel. … The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a single, undeviating standard of sexual morality: intimate relations are proper only between a man and a woman in the marriage relationship prescribed in God’s plan.”  Elder Packer reinforced this same point.  “The permissiveness afforded by the weakening of the laws of the land to tolerate legalized acts of immorality does not reduce the serious spiritual consequence that is the result of the violation of God’s law of chastity.”

Elder Bednar further sharpened the argument against the contemporary ideology of sexual liberation:

“We are agents blessed with moral agency and are defined by our divine heritage as children of God—and not by sexual behaviors, contemporary attitudes, or secular philosophies.”  In what is almost a direct rebuke to Progressive pleadings, he adds “The doctrine I have described will seem to be archaic and outdated to many people in a world that increasingly mocks the sanctity of procreation and minimizes the worth of human life. But the Lord’s truth is not altered by fads, popularity, or public opinion polls.”

President Packer also made it clear that changes in man-made laws in no way affect the definition of the law of chastity:

“The permissiveness afforded by the weakening of the laws of the land to tolerate legalized acts of immorality does not reduce the serious spiritual consequence that is the result of the violation of God’s law of chastity.”

Elder Hales also directly addressed political pressures:

“Standing obedient and strong on the doctrine of our God, we stand in holy places, for His doctrine is sacred and will not change in the social and political winds of our day.”

Elder Perry likewise reaffirms the permanence of moral principles surrounding sex and marriage:

“In a world where the moral compass of society is faltering, the restored gospel of Jesus Christ never wavers, nor should its stakes and wards, its families, or its individual members. We must not pick and choose which commandments we think are important to keep but acknowledge all of God’s commandments. We must stand firm and steadfast, having perfect confidence in the Lord’s consistency and perfect trust in His promises.”

And Elder Hales offers further encouragement to the faithful in resisting the blandishments of “Progressive” cultural and political elites:

“Sometimes we become the lightning rod, and we must “take the heat” for holding fast to God’s standards and doing His work. I testify that we need not be afraid if we are grounded in His doctrine. We may experience misunderstanding, criticism, and even false accusation, but we are never alone. Our Savior was “despised and rejected of men.” It is our sacred privilege to stand with Him!”

Mormon Apologetics and the New Liberalism

Mormon apologetics aims, not to replace faith, prayer, and obedience as essential to the pursuit of ultimate, life-giving truth, but to preserve or create a cultural and intellectual climate in which belief may flourish.  Today, one of the greatest obstacles to such a climate is the cultural prestige of the New Liberalism, with its denial of any moral authority above human self-expression.  Indeed, I would suggest that a rising young scholar or intellectual is more likely today to be excluded from the circles of cultural prestige for moral-political reasons than for holding beliefs in the authenticity of texts or of miraculous events that elites find improbable.  In today’s world, a student or young academic might be regarded as charmingly eccentric for believing in an angel delivering gold plates, but this person would be risking his or her career if he let slip the opinion that marriage is properly defined as a union between a man and a woman. Facts are subject to imaginative speculation, but the sacred morality of the New Liberalism must not be blasphemed.

Given the increasing influence of the New Liberalism on the modern mind, including the mind of an increasing number of LDS, what then are the implications for Mormon Apologetics, for the task of employing critical thinking and the tools of scholarship to defend the faith?

There are many faithful saints (including people close to me), who believe that there is nothing to be said on the great moral subjects beyond what our Church leaders are telling us clearly, firmly, almost constantly:  keep the commandments, follow the prophet, do not be seduced by secular ideologies.  I must say I have a lot of sympathy for this point of view.  Still, it seems to me a pity to concede the authority of reason to ideologues who have not learned to question New Liberal dogma.  LDS teaching has always extolled the noble partnership of reason and revelation, the pursuit of truth by study as well as by faith, and it would be a shame to concede the rightful prestige of reason to an ideology that shields itself from critical self-examination. It would be a shame to leave our brothers and sisters, and especially our intellectually gifted and enterprising young fellow saints, with the impression that they must choose between being rational and being faithful.  Mormon apologists must make it clear, in the area of fundamental moral-political beliefs as they do in dealing with sacred texts and Church history, that the Lord does not ask us to sacrifice our intellectual integrity or rational or our quest for understanding, but only to recognize our own limitations, the fallibility and corruptibility of human reason, and thus the need for prophetic guidance and for obedience to commandments.

Of course there can be no question of reason and scholarship overcoming the need for humble obedience.  Reason cannot by itself supply the answers to life’s great questions, and fundamental political questions, questions of what is right and what is good, are among these.  But reason must participate in the quest for spiritual understanding.  And, more to the present purposes, reason can perform the important function of criticizing secular ideologies that unjustifiably claim the prestige of reason.  Rational apologetics cannot, and must not attempt, to produce its own complete account of human nature and human purposes.  But it can point up the blind spots and the rational defects of the ascendant New Liberalism, which claims the authority of reason for its attacks on the idea of a divine ground of morality.  Reason can show that secular “rationalism” is by no means rational, since it proceeds not by answering or by exploring but by suppressing the most natural and rational of questions, namely, what is the purpose of human existence?

Given the present political and intellectual climate, in which vague notions of Progress and Equality so often take the place of careful moral and political deliberation, faithful LDS scholars cannot afford to ignore the ideological threat to the bases of belief.  Mormon apologetics must equip itself to demonstrate the irrationality of the New Liberalism.

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