The Fourth — or First — Reason for Religious Freedom
When I wrote recently on three reasons religious freedom matters, I kept it generic, with no particular religion in mind. There is a fourth reason for religious freedom, however, which is really the first one: Christianity is both true and good. God, as Christianity knows God, is true and good. Therefore freedom to follow his way is true and good.
Today is my fifty-seventh American Independence Day, which means I have lived long enough to have known a time when this was less controversial. I acknowledge the disagreement. If you care to see my defense of my position, please read through my entire blog. Meanwhile I will direct the rest of my words here to my fellow Christians, who know it is good to follow Jesus Christ: that he is the author of life, the giver of freedom, the Prince of Peace, the source of truth, the complete expression and final standard of justice and mercy.
Biblical Principles of Freedom
The two great opening expressions of America's Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal, and are endowed … with certain inalienable rights” both depend on the Creator who was mentioned in there. Though he was not named in the Declaration, that Creator is Christ, and had to be, in order for those statements to be credibly true.
That's another controversial position, which I'll attempt to support briefly here. First, “all men [and women] are created equal” — from where does that belief derive? First, what does it even mean? We're not equal in size, skills, intelligence, physical strength, opportunity, social status, or any other surface characteristic. We are, however, equal in worth. We all matter equally. Therefore justice demands that we all be treated as equal in that sense.
The Bible makes it clear we are all created, first of all, and that being in the image of God we all have worth in God's eyes. This is not found in any of the Eastern religions, and it cannot be coherently derived from naturalistic atheism, which provides no rational basis for human worth at all. Peter Singer and PETA correctly conclude that naturalism places humans on the same level as the animals, and B. F. Skinner was right to speak of “Beyond Freedom and Dignity,” on naturalistic premises.
And the Bible makes it clear we are all equal before God. “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift” (Rom. 3:23, 24). There is no partiality in God: see James 2:1-7 and Gal. 3:28 for starters, though it's actually embedded throughout the entire Bible.
Endowed with Rights
As for human rights, they are given us either by God or by government. The American Founders saw them as coming from God, and wisely so. For them, rights were about what persons could do without governmental power interfering. If rights come from government (court decisions, for example), there is no barrier protecting us from governmental overreach into our lives.
Again, however, only biblical religion provides any coherent explanation for God-given rights. No other major religion makes any suggestion of human rights. Secular atheism leaves us with only the government to protect us from the government. This is untenable in the long run, and will inevitably erode all freedoms.
Truth To Power
Christianity is good and true, as I have argued throughout the pages of this blog. It's the one system that provides a firm foundation for liberty, as I have tried to explain very briefly here. That means we must have freedom to exercise Christianity freely.
It does not mean that we ought to expect to have a Christian government. It doesn’t mean Christianity gets privileges above other religions. It certainly doesn't imply a theocracy. Rather it means we must have the freedom to develop and to practice our beliefs, both privately and publicly, so that the faith can thrive. To hold power institutionally as Christians is dangerous; history proves that. To hold it personally can be hugely helpful: witness Wilberforce and Kuyper, among other self-avowedly strong Christians.
Most of all, though, it is Christianity's duty to speak truth to power, as I said last time.
A Place for Christians to Stand
I write this being fully aware that non-believers are reading and will find some of it difficult to swallow. As long as I am convinced of Christianity's truth and goodness, however, I am committed to its truth and goodness in public matters. It would be wrong not to include it among the reasons for religious freedom.
But this wasn't written this time for those who disagree. It was for fellow believers, to encourage them to stand strong on the truth and goodness of Christianity, that they would know and practice it deeply and truly, and stay in close communion with our Creator and Redeemer — and support our continuing freedom to do so. It is for the good of each believer, the good of the faith, and yes, even the good of the countries in which we live.
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