By Michael Kirke, MercatorNet
What is the difference between the Muslim call for sharia law and the Christian aspiration that no civil law should be contrary to the core moral principles of the Christian faith?
The answer is liberal secularism.
Not, however, that destructive brand of secularism which is now at the heart of the cold culture war which is rupturing the civil and religious tolerance which the Western world has enjoyed, on and off, for two centuries or more. We are talking about the secularism which has its roots in the development of the Christian church's own teaching.
It is a fact of history that down through the centuries there has been a kind of law operating by which much of the development of Christian teaching – by which, I suppose, we mean our understanding of all the implications of Christ's teaching – takes place in a context of conflict. This conflict comes from challenges from without or within to the practices and beliefs of any given time or place which are deemed to be consistent with and even central to what Judeo-Christian Scriptures and Tradition teach. Out of these conflicts comes a constantly developing thought about and practical approach to the journey on which Christian “wayfarers” are embarked and which in any given age seeks to meet the needs of this pilgrim people and the entire race to which they belong.
So, in the early centuries the true identity of Christ as God and Man became clearer, as did the special character of his mother's identity and holiness. In later centuries the purpose, nature and structure of the government of the Church which he founded became clearer. In the early modern age – the epoch of the Reformation, Protestant and Catholic – that Church, weakened by the corruption of its all-too-human members, was challenged. That challenge threatened both its teaching and its very form. But in its response to that challenge and threat came a new understanding, hand in hand with its reaffirmation of its original foundational teaching.