In May, Professor Nigel Biggar spoke at the McDonald Centre’s annual conference and discussed the role of the Christian Church in developing and maintaining a politically liberal society. The McDonald Centre, which he leads, is a research institute connected to Oxford University. This year’s conference was titled “Is Religious Liberty under Threat? A Trans-Atlantic Dialogue.”
In his speech, Biggar argued that Christianity, particularly the Anglican Church, is an important part of a free and fair government. In America, we view the separation of church and state as a pillar of religious freedom, but in England, where Biggar teaches, the Anglican Church has been officially linked to the government for centuries. Biggar, who’s ordained in the Church of England, set out to demonstrate that this state sponsored religious establishment is “compatible with liberal rights to religious freedom and political equality.”
When Biggar referred to liberalism, he did not mean it in the way it is used in modern American politics where it is generally associated with big-government and progressive policies. Instead, he uses it to refer to classical liberalism, the political philosophy championed by John Locke, David Hume, Thomas Jefferson, and Adam Smith. Under classical liberalism, the government is restricted to protecting the natural rights of citizens. Economically, these rights are guarded by a free market where consumers are able to freely choose what they buy. This concept is tied to John Stuart Mill’s “marketplace of ideas,” where men are allowed to freely discuss their opinions, and the market will eventually decide what ideology is best.
Liberalism is closely tied to individualism and humanism which promote the ideas that every man is an equal being, worthy of respect and dignity. Biggar claimed that there is a clear link between Christian theology and the values of liberalism and individualism. He stated “the most important political contribution of England’s religious establishment lies in the Christian humanist worldview that it advocates. A world view that generates the virtues necessary for the survival of a liberal ethos.”
— These Islands (@These_Islands) October 31, 2017