Karl Barth and Roger Scruton make unlikely conversation partners. Barth, was a Reformed Swiss theologian, who held up the distinction between theology and philosophy, and Scruton, is a British philosopher, who talks theology, but knows his limits on the subject.
The meeting between the two takes place in Barth’s On Religion and Roger Scruton’s, The West and All the Rest. Together they provide a telescopic view of modern religio-politics and the socio-political landscape of the West.
One big theme for Scruton is the relationship between the ‘social contract’ and Creed communities[i] (or communities bound by religious law). One clear example of this is Shari’a law.
Shari’a is held up by the Muslim community as unchangeable divine law. ‘The gate of itijiahd is closed’, meaning that the divine law, the Shari’a, can no longer be adjusted or added to, but merely studied for meaning that it already contains.’ (Scruton, p.22)
Within Islam, salvation comes through the law. Routine obedience to both ritual and law ‘makes and unmakes a Muslim’s relationship with God.’ (ibid, p.21) Islamic ‘communities are not formed by doctrine, but by obedience, established through ritual and law’. (ibid, p.103) There is no objective political body such as is created, in the West, by the separation of the Church and State.
‘Like the Communist Party in its Leninist construction, Islam aims to control the state without being a subject of the state […] Islamic jurisprudence does not recognise secular, still less territorial, jurisdiction as a genuine source of law. (ibid, pp.6 & 66)
Western foundations were laid by Judeo-Christian doctrine and Roman law, where ‘law is defined over territory [territorial jurisdiction]’. From the two, emerged the “social contract”. The social contract consists of the rights and responsibilities of free citizens, lived out, and governed within the boundaries of classical enlightenment liberalism and its ‘’culture of toleration’’.
Although, in the Western sphere, ‘religion is the concern of family and society, but not of the State’ (ibid, p.63),the social contract has an undeniable foundation in the Judeo-Christian experience, which advocates love for God and love for neighbour, whether that neighbor be a Jew, Christian, Muslim or neither. Neighbor serves neighbour, just as that neighbour would serve himself (Leviticus 19:9-18, Deuteronomy 6 & Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31).
Personal responsibility functions under the covering of a basic agreement. This is works for social and political cohesion; a ‘common loyalty to a single [secular] political culture’ (ibid, p.63), within in a diverse, vibrant and free society.
Rather than within a coercive society or politik grounded in allegiance to one overarching ruler, party or carefully structured narrative.
In other words, the social contract exists within a house where freedom is governed responsibly; it cannot exist in a house of slavery, where freedom is squashed by the two opposing extremes of Islamism and Nihilism.
Barth’s major theme meets Scruton’s precisely where Barth asserts that religion, when it’s abstracted from God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, becomes idolatrous and toxic.* E.g.: Works righteousness; where the focus is not on what God has done, but on what man and woman do, and how they can reach God, without God.
Scruton and Barth, present a tangible argument for the importance of recognising the dangers of jettisoning the social contract along with its critique and affirmation within the Judeo-Christian experience.
Responsible freedom and civics (the social contract) which facilitate true freedom, because it understand that true freedom only exists when just limitations, are applied to protect freedom from the challenges which threaten its existence.
Such as post-enlightenment nihilism (manifested as militant secular humanism), cultural Marxism, Islamism and radical feminism, all of which, through revisionism and deconstruction theory, seek to jettison tried and true, Judeo-Christian doctrine and experience, without regard for the anchoring for freedom that it provides.
For Barth, men and women act against God’s grace. In man and woman’s quest to reach God, on human terms, his and her ‘erecting of towers of babel’, are faithless acts, built on flawed and faithless human arrangements.
These human arrangements are absent of any involvement or acknowledgement (faith) of, in the Divine. Barth points out that, as history proves, when one religion fades or is usurped, another inevitably takes its place.
Enter Scruton, who agrees, stating that both Marxism and Feminism, share the ‘ambitions of a monotheistic faith [religion]’
‘It seeks to replace or rearrange the core experience of social membership and therefore has to ambitions of a monotheistic faith, [like Marxism] offering a feminist answer to every moral and social question…a feminist [and Marxist] [account of history], theory of the universe, and even a feminist goddess. It drives the heretics and half-believers from its ranks with a zeal that is the other side of the warmth with which it welcomes the submissive and orthodox.’ (ibid, p.72)
Evidenced also in the remarks of “one of the founders of “Western Marxism”, György Lukács, in Record of a Life:
“You cannot just sample Marxism […] you must be converted to it.” [ii]
Scruton and Barth share a common protest. Connected to Barth’s discussion on religion without revelation, Scruton helps build a strong theological critique of Islamism, Marxism and Feminism. All exist as religions without the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
Just as religion without the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, is bound for destruction, so is Western political philosophy that jettisons its Judeo-Christian foundations; foundations that hold up a moral and faith basis for Classical Liberal enlightenment principles, such as the largely successful independent working relationship between Church and State.
In Islam there is no equivalent to a separation between Church and State. Like Marxism, the State is the Church (or Mosque). All moral opposition is treated as treason. (Exemplified by ex-Muslim & secular humanist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her book, ‘Infidel’)
As neighbour betrays neighbour, family member betrays family member, all politically incorrect [State approved] talk is reported to organisations like the Morality Police (Gasht-e Ershad) or the Soviet Cheka, USSR’s equivalent to the Gestapo[iii].
Scruton makes it clear that, what is at work behind the scenes, in the West, is not a denial of religion, but a quest to replace it. Barth makes it clear that any religion completely absent or synthetically veiled with lip service to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, is one to be resisted.
Like Barth’s admonishment of natural theology during the rise of Hitlerism and the Third Reich. Like his warnings of how faithlessness leads humanity towards inhumanity. Like Barth’s meticulous warnings of any religion which exists without the sublimating [raising to a higher status] of religion through the covenant of grace, Scruton points a telescope towards a storm that’s been darkening the horizon, but has been dangerously dismissed, by far too many for far too long.
Barth, K. & Green. G 2013 On Religion, Bloomsbury Academic
Scruton, R. 2002 The West & All The Rest: Globalization & The Terrorist Threat ISI Books
[i] This term is attributed to Oswald Spengler, The Decline of The West.
[ii] Scruton, R. 2015. Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, New Thinkers of The Left. Bloomsbury Publishing
[iii] Another example comes from Alain Besancon, who wrote: ‘Muslim states, according to strict adherence to law, cannot authorize the reciprocal tolerance asked of them by Christian states. In calling for this, Christians show their ignorance of Islam.’ (Forward to Jacques Ellul’s, Islam and Judeo-Christianity).
*(Such as: any religion [claim to the way of salvation] that holds a veneer of revelation, but ultimately rejects both covenant and Jesus Christ as the promise and fulfillment of God’s revelation; God’s free choosing and acting in and through the covenant of grace.)