The Church and Secularity: Two Stories of Liberal Society

By Robert Gascoigne | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Christian Hope and the Eucharist:
Witness and Service

In the previous chapter, I reflected on the virtues that enable a realization of the ethically positive potential of liberal societies, and on the ways in which these virtues are definitively embodied in Jesus Christ. The crucial role of these virtues emphasizes the fact that liberal society is an ethical project. Modernity in general is not necessarily an ethical project and may simply be the outcome of a number of “disembedding” social processes, accelerated by the development of technology.1 Nonetheless, liberal society is a distinctive form of modernity that is based on the dignity of the human person, expressed in normative statements of human rights or in laws and practices that embody those rights.

Since liberal society is an ethical project, it depends essentially on hope: only hope can sustain the ethical commitment required to give life to this project, constantly renewing it despite the strength of the negative dynamics of domination that threaten to reduce it to some other, illiberal, form of modernity. Because human desire can take the path of self-love or love of neighbor, the future of liberal societies can never be taken for granted. Their character as an ethical project means that they must be constantly open to conversion, to the renewal of their commitment to love of neighbor over dominative self-love. Hope is a fundamental aspect of this conversion: To live by hope is to live in willing readiness for commitment to noninstrumental relationships, overcoming the fear and cynicism that tempts societies to revert to selfishness and guarded exclusion.

For Christian hope, “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5.20). Christian hope affirms that the story of

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