Monday, October 16, 2006

Horse Sense: Faith and Freedom Revisited (Part II)

You may not agree with me that our country is at a fundamental juncture, a crossroads between freedom and despotism—and here I’m simply giving away my prejudice. Perhaps the choice is not at all that stark. But over the years the government has clearly grown and gotten more powerful. Further, the government has gotten a lot more “say so” over practically everything, and technology makes Big Brother more of a potential reality in the future than it was for Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Germany—if freedom should ever get away from us. The loss of freedom didn’t happen overnight in those places either. It doesn’t always take a revolution to lose something. It may just take a cumulative process, the slow accretion of power away from the people and to the government, as we quite literally choose our chains—suffocating freedom little by little, day, by day and rule, by rule—assigning more and more personal prerogative to the state. It would be ironic perhaps, but no more ironic than that God has permitted us freedom in the first place, a freedom that we have increasingly used to reject Him—from the classroom, from the ball field, from the public square, from out of the lives of many libertine thrill seekers and word-of-God illiterates. Yet if you are part of the remnant the Bible refers to (you who read and understand); if we are part of the remnant who know better, because Jesus Christ is in our lives, ask yourself what may still happen if we reverse the process and start to insist on more freedom—freedom to pray and to define the moral environment around us, freedom to educate your children, to live according to your own conscience and better lights. Christians may turn the other cheek, indeed are supposed to, but that is not quite the same thing as being pliant. It is certainly not the same thing as being disengaged, disinterested, distracted, irrelevant to political pollsters, because you never or rarely ever vote. Others before have already fought essential battles and shed rivers of blood, the blood of patriots and of Christian martyrs. Do we not even pick up where they left off; do we not even take up the relatively easy tools they left for us? Federalism; states rights; self-determination of towns and communities; the glorious Constitution; and a political system that is the envy of the world; the power of the ballot box. Speaking of which, this coming November 7th is the General Election—are you registered to vote? Have you made arrangement with your county clerk or gone on-line to make sure you receive an absentee ballot if you plan to be gone? The Founders left it all to you, but they could not leave you the courage to take up your cross and walk the walk required of yours and every generation.
Those who like liberty but reject faith need to be reminded that our very concept of what liberty means emerged in a framework of Judeo-Christian tradition. From Holy Scripture, we see the story of liberty unfold: first in the Garden of Eden, proceeding through the commandments that deal so forthrightly with questions of what’s yours and mine, as well as the sanctity of marriage and the importance of truth-telling. All this leads inexorably to the idea of liberty as fundamental to social order. It is true that the idea of liberty finds echoes in other cultures, because the truth is universal. But the Jewish and Christian traditions provide a strikingly coherent understanding of the very basis of liberty as we understand it, with a strong emphasis on the inherent dignity of the human person, of the integrity and moral legitimacy of private property, of the ethical foundation of economic and social advancement, of the duties and limitations of the State. All of this is intrinsic to our faith; they are the social implications of our faith. Faith and freedom are intertwined; and ‘the good life’ on earth resides at their nexus, what the Founders called ordered liberty and gave us to maintain. Ordered liberty again is at the nexus of faith and freedom; that is, where faith and freedom overlap and inform each other. Now some people view Christianity in America as a political force that potentially threatens freedom. But then they should ask themselves what were the religious ideas behind the political movements that have spawned the worst human rights abuses in all of history? The religious assumptions were secular-atheist in the case of the French Revolution and subsequent Reign of Terror; they were secular-atheist in the case of the Bolshevik Revolution and the bloodbath of communism that followed; they were pagan-atheist in the case of National Socialism and the Nazi-sponsored Holocaust; and they were deviant and jihadist Muslim, in the case of 9-11 and the international scourge of terrorism. Those who castigate Christians for their political involvement would give the government more power in more areas of human endeavor and experience. At best these folks misunderstand the terms of Christ’s admonition to us all—that His kingdom is not of this world. The Christian thus renders to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and Christians are very loyal subjects in this regard. But Christians may also resist the State’s encroachment upon prerogatives of God and God-ordained institutions, such as marriage and the family. This is what both Saint Augustine and John Calvin opined, and Christianity has moved steadily in history towards a view that defends the rights of people against the State, in order that we may carve out essential space to live according to God’s Word. Given that, involvement by Christians today in politics is more likely to produce increased personal freedom, not less.
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Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he ran for U.S. Congress (TX-District 31) in the 2004 Republican Primary. Email: wes@wesriddle.com.

1 comment:

Michael Robinson said...

Wesoffers relevant and thought provoking commentary.
Glad you are back.