Tim Farron is not the ideal person to explain Christianity’s relationship to liberalism. When he resigned as leader of his party, after a poor election result, he complained about the culture’s anti-Christian bias. It’s a complicated enough issue, without sour grapes being added to the brew.
He now says that British liberalism has become empty because it has departed from its Christian roots. Despite outward conformity to liberal principles, there is now ‘no unifying set of British values.’ Look under the surface and people are selfish, tribal and intolerant of difference. True liberalism is rare, and, he implies, it is part of a deeper commitment than secular people are capable of. Never mind that he quotes George Orwell, a nonbeliever, on the need to tolerate views one dislikes.
As I argue in my recent book ‘God Created Humanism’, Christians should resist the temptation to denounce the shallowness of liberalism. We should affirm our shared ideology (I prefer to call it ‘secular humanism’ than ‘liberalism’). Yes, we should point to its Christian roots (Farron gets this much right). But we should also affirm its secular character – it has rightly (providentially, I venture) become detached from its roots, so that it can include those of all religions and none. This makes it vague, and thin – but that’s how it has to be, to keep everyone on board. So the Christian politician should be nuanced: this is the right public ideology – even though a fuller one is also needed. Let Christians who cannot grasp this nuance keep quiet.