“Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority of government has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put on this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer.” – Ronald W. Reagan, Moscow State University 1988.
Today I attended my first Acton Lecture Series event which featured Michael Miller, Acton’s Director of Programs and Education. I felt very blessed somebody is speaking my language for a change.
I included this quote from our former president because Miller touched on the subject of Christians believing that all life has inherent value. This was contrasted with the totalitarian understanding of relativism, which stands in opposition to the belief in absolute truth. Miller even noted how totalitarianism seeks “men and women with blank slates – because they can be shaped.” A classic example in my mind would be the Khmer Rouge “Year Zero” campaign which tried to end the ideas of religion and private property ruthlessly.
A couple of great quotes I wrote down of Miller’s concerning the Church vs. the power of the state are:
“The Church by definition limits the state.”
“If you are under God’s authority the state is automatically limited.”
One would easily be aware of in this context of the power of some of the spiritual leaders in the fight against totalitarianism such as John Paul II, Whitaker Chambers, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
The central theme of Miller’s argument: “Freedom and tolerance can only be sustained in a society where a robust commitment to truth exists.”
This may have been one of the greatest strengths of some of the above mentioned leaders. I think one of the qualities President Reagan embodied in terms of the presidency was raising the moral language and arguments against totalitarianism.
What was so powerful concerning the lecture was Miller’s warning of the extreme dangers of an absence of truth, and the slide towards what he called a “thinly veiled totalitarianism.” He also noted, “We defend the weak through commitment to truth and justice.”
He offered the audience a quote by Alexis de Tocqueville: “America is good because its people are good.” One can easily see the dangers Miller warned against that have emerged, especially in the last 40-50 years. He noted the secularization of Europe and the emerging secularization of our own country. I remember being criticized in seminary for “Constantinianism” for writing about the emergence of democracy out of Western Christianity and the Presbyterian form of church government.
Very importantly Miller also noted that scores of young people have rebelled against the “whatever” culture. He mentioned the many young Roman Catholics and Protestants who have committed their lives to a deeper purpose and especially the truth of The Greatest Story Ever Told. I am now fortunate to work beside and with many of these people.