Acton Institute Powerblog

Freedom in a Land without Churches?

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There are no more Christian churches in Afghanistan — not a single public house of Christian worship is left standing. In other news, NATO success against the Taliban may have been intentionally exaggerated, although we already knew that progress in that country is… slow. It’s no surprise, of course, that the United States hasn’t been able to establish self government-in-a-box in a country where, according to the State Department, religious liberty has declined measurably even in the last year.

Religious liberty must be at the heart of any free society, because if it is not protected, all other defenses are sure to fall. The abuses of Christians in Afghanistan violate not only their rights of conscience, but also their rights of property and even of free movement — their churches are seized and they are imprisoned. Contracts with Christians are not enforced, converts to Christianity are openly persecuted, and Afghan politicians approve of all of this.

We should not expect that in ten years our diplomats could have effected a constitutional transformation of Afghanistan. Liberty “is the delicate fruit of a mature civilization,” as Lord Acton said, “from the sowing of the seed at Athens, two thousand four hundred and sixty years ago, until the ripened harvest was gathered” in Western Europe. (He delivered that address in 1877, so you’ll want to update the numbers.)

But a backslide is cause for concern. It suggests that there is something wrong with the conception of human freedom that is motivating our efforts.

Kenneth Spence


  • Roger McKinney

    I visited Afghanistan
    in 1976 and by all appearances nothing has changed. Kabul
    had allowed expat Christians to build a church a few years earlier but someone
    burned it to the ground. So the expat Christians just met in a home.

    Failed US
    policy has two sources – 1) the assumption that religion doesn’t matter and 2)
    the ignorance of the importance of culture. Neo-cons assume that the problems
    with countries like Afghanistan
    are merely technical: change the political structure and everything else will
    fall in line. They don’t understand that institutions, such as the political
    structure, are determined by culture and culture by religion.

    • Luke Daxon

      Absolutely Roger. The Iraq war was an even better (or should that be worse) example of trying remodel a society by fire and sword, along the lines of some abstract vision. Even Robiespierre recognised that nobody likes armed missionaries.

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