Do we worship freedom?

Photo by Jill Wellington on

When he wrote Escape from Reason, Francis Schaeffer talked about how we have divided the word in half, below the line is the natural world and above it is the supernatural, what we look to for meaning, what in effect we worship. Once we remove from God from above the line we replace him with all kinds of things.

One thing that we tend to place above the line and worship is freedom. This is even seen in theology. The most extreme version of this is found in Open Theism which starts from the premise that if God is love, then love defines God’s essence, love is God. It moves from there to argue that free will is essential for love because we have to be allowed to freely love God back.  In other words, love is God becomes freedom is love so that freedom is God.

Outside of the church, freedom as idolatry is expressed in terms of my freedom to do whatever I want without ever being told “no.” Freedom is the removal of all restrictions. So, it is assumed that freedom of movement must be a good thing (cf the Brexit debate)[1]and that Free Speech is essential.  The argument is that even if we disagree with what someone says, even if it is mean, offensive, untrue, then we still defend their right to say it.

However, there has never really been an absolute right to free speech. Legally my right to say what I want wherever I want and whenever I want is restricted. I’m not allowed to say things that are slanderous. I have to be careful that what I say doesn’t bring others into disrepute, betrays confidentiality or invades privacy.  MPs and members of other institutions are restricted by codes of conduct whilst those involved in public service may also have signed The Official Secrets Act.

Even if it may be unwise and unhealthy for Governments to seek to control freedoms including free speech, this does not mean that an absence of legal controls means I am truly free to say or do whatever I like. I may not be under a legal obligation but I should be under a moral obligation. The issue is not so much about my freedom to say and do what I can. Rather it is a question of “who am I accountable to and who enforces the code?”

So, when I see Christians beginning to talk about their disagreement with Coronavirus measures in terms of loss of freedom or even longer standing matters such as freedom for street preachers, I worry a little that we may be slipping into the World’s narrative. The issue is not whether or not we have freedom to do or say things but rather whether or not those things are right or wrong. The reason why a preacher should be able to say that abortion is wrong or that marriage is between one man  and one woman is not his entitlement to free-speech but his responsibility to speak the truth from God on the matter.

I have seen the restrictions we have faced during COVID-19 compared with the horrors faced by those under the oppression of Nazi rule.  Even just naming the comparison should be enough to tell us that we might just have jumped the shark. Those who compare restrictions now to those in the 1940s forget that the war didn’t just bring loss of liberty to those in Germany and occupied Europe. Rather, freedoms were curtailed in allied countries. There were enforced blackouts, families were uprooted and evacuated to the country-side, men were drafted into military service and rations were strictly enforced.

The difference between Nazi Germany and her opponents was not the curtailment of civil liberties. Rather, it was that  brutal regime set out to invade and occupy other countries. It was the brutal genocide of Gypsies and Jews. It was the commitment to an ideology based on racial hatred and pseudo-genetics aimed at destroying the vulnerable and creating a powerful super-race.

Yes there are things that should concern us today, not the inconvenience of tiers and lockdowns but the evidence that we live in a world that continues to hate God and pursue evil. We might want to focus our attention much more on hostile environments against asylum seekers, the cover up of abuse, the genocide of unborn babies, the creeping acceptance of euthanasia and a callous attitude to the old and the vulnerable.  In the context of the Nazi references, I might also want to add that we are still not completely out of the woods following a mainstream dalliance with the evil of antisemitism.

True freedom is found not in my right to do whatever I want whenever I want. True freedom is found in freedom from sin and evil, it is the freedom to follow Christ and to speak for him.

[1] For what it is worth I do think that freedom of movement is a good thing but that is not an absolute foundational requirement that we must assume as self evident.

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