Posts tagged with: freedom

washingtonIf the American Founding got one thing right more than anything, it was its commitment to a broad and liberal religious liberty. In 1790, President George Washington told a Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy; a policy worthy of imitation.”

Currently, the country faces a number of threats to religious liberty and America seems to be squandering its profound moral authority it can offer to a world starving for its example. On the evening of February 4, I’ll address many of these challenges at Acton on Tap in Grand Rapids. The title for the event is “The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty.” If you are local to the area please join us and be prepared to share your own thoughts and insights.

The weakening of religion of course inevitably leads to more centralization and government. Thus, the American Framers clearly saw the need for a strong religious and moral fabric to guarantee liberty. “The people, who are the source of all lawful authority, are inherently independent of all but the moral law,” declared Thomas Jefferson. The framers were concerned that freedom would break down and become less about restraint and more about license.

It is undeniable that one of the gravest problems we face in this country is a misunderstood and disordered view of liberty that permeates society. Lord Acton put it well when he said liberty is “not the power of doing what we like but the right of being able to do what we ought.”

While America has dramatically changed over the centuries, I believe the founding period offers a lot of important lessons today. Religious persecution in America was an ongoing problem at that time, and would remain to degrees, but there was a deep desire to avoid the kind of devastation that fomented religious wars in Europe. I’ll address that more at Acton on Tap. One thing is certain, with all the challenges America now faces in regards to surviving as the home for a free people, it’s ludicrous to believe that is possible without a vibrant morality and a championing of religious liberty.

Dietrich BonhoefferWhile imprisoned by the Nazis at Tegel military prison, and shortly after learning of the last failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned a short poem for his friend, Eberhard Bethge, titled “Stations on the Road to Freedom.”

I’ve come across the poem before, but in recently reading Eric Metaxas’ fine biography of the man, I was reminded of its power and potency in describing the essence of Christian freedom. It becomes all the more compelling given its context, serving as a “distillation of his theology at the time,” as Metaxas describes it.

Though we must be careful to appreciate the time and place from which it sprung, it brings with it plenty of implications for the ways in which we order our lives and allegiances. Indeed, in his prodding toward obedience, discipline, and submission to God — features many would find contradictory or in opposition to freedom — Bonhoeffer’s embrace of this profound paradox dovetails quite nicely with Lord Acton’s famous notion of “defining liberty not as the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”


If you want to improve the material conditions of the poor and working classes, what is the one economic metric you should consider most important?

carpooling-Life MagFor progressives the answer is income inequality, since a wide disparity between the incomes of the rich and poor is considered by them to be an obvious sign of injustice and a justification for using the force of the government to redistribute wealth. But for conservatives, the answer is upward economic mobility, the ability of an individual or family to improve their economic status. One of the benefits of the free market is that it harnesses liberty, diligence, and hard work in order to advance economic mobility.

The economic realm, though, exists in the physical realm, which is why economic mobility often requires effective means of physical mobility, that is, reliable transportation. While progressives tend to favor government-controlled public transit (such as busses and subways), conservatives tend to prefer individual transportation, especially access to cars. The reason is that history has shown, as Sasha Volokh says, that freedom drives a car:


Acton’s second documentary, The Birth of Freedom, begins with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech and ends with an image from the Civil Rights movement. The documentary, which aired on PBS, explores how the speech is rooted deeply in the Western freedom project and how that centuries-old project is itself rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. If you watched one promotional about the documentary, it was probably the official trailer, but Acton also made a shorter teaser for the film, which features King’s speech front and center. Here it is below, and below it, a link to order and share the documentary– (more…)

Blog author: jwitt
Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I find the new investigative essay by journalist Michael J. Totten about Havana before and under communism poignant and beautiful, a must-read for anyone interested in Cuba, communism and the universal hunger for liberty. The long essay is worth every word, but I’ve excerpted a few of the most arresting passages here:

The rotting surfaces of some of the buildings [in the tourist district] have been restored, but those changes are strictly cosmetic. Look around. There’s still nothing to buy. You’ll find a few nice restaurants and bars here and there, but they’re owned by the state and only foreigners go there. The locals can’t afford to eat or drink out because the state caps their salaries at twenty dollars a month. Restored Old Havana looks and feels no more real than the Las Vegas version of Venice….

Yet the bones of Cuba’s capital are unmatched in our hemisphere. “The Cubans of successive centuries created a harmonious architectural whole almost without equal in the world,” [Theodore] Dalrymple wrote. (more…)

Painting of 'Render Unto Caesar' by Peter Paul Rubens.

Painting of ‘Render Unto Caesar’ by Peter Paul Rubens.

Richard Weaver, one of the great intellectuals of the 20th Century, and author of Ideas Have Consequences, published an essay in the early 1960s on Lord Acton (pdf only). Much of Weaver’s essay is worth highlighting, but one excerpt in particular reminds us of the central significance of Christianity in the battle for freedom. It reminds us too of the dangers of secularism and where our indifference to God is inevitably leading us.

It was inevitable that, lacking one vital element, the ancient governments should have collapsed into despotism. That vital element was introduced by Christianity. This was belief in the sacredness of the person and thus in a center of power distinct from the state. What the pagan philosophers in all their brilliance had not been able to do, that is, set effective barriers to the power of the state, was done in response to that injuction: ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.’ This instituted a basis of freedom upon which the world since that time has been able to build.

In Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of our Time, published in 1964, Weaver noted the cure for the ailment of the decline of Western Culture,

But the road away from idolatry remains the same as before; it lies in respect for the struggling dignity of man for his orientation toward something higher than himself which he has not created.

khomeiniAs a child I was fascinated with world news and current events. I was especially drawn to reports about the rabid anti-Americanism in Iran and their almost decade long war with Iraq. It was not the film “Argo” or even living in the Middle East that renewed my interest in Iran, but an excellent book by Mark Bowden titled, “Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam.” Still, I knew little about the suffering of Iranians, especially Christians, in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution.

Earlier this year, I read “Prisoner of Tehran,” another impressive book about the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The author, Marina Nemat, delivered a keynote address at Acton University this year and that’s where I sat down to interview her about her prison experience and the state of the Middle East today. She offers a lot of insight on torture, the hope we have as Christians, and what exactly is going on today with many of the uprisings we see in that region in the news.

The feature article, “But What if They’re All Republicans?” is written by Andrew Yuengert. He is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. Yuengert argues that an overly politicized Catholic episcopacy damages the Church’s social witness.

David Deavel reviews a new work on Adam Smith authored by James Otteson. The book on Smith is part of the Bloomsbury series “Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers.” Deavel notes in his review, “In James Otteson’s short, witty, and well-sourced introduction to Smith, one can see why Kirk and Burke thought so highly of this figure— and why our contemporaries should, too.”

Samuel Gregg’s Tea Party Catholic is garnering a lot of attention and we offer an excerpt from the book in this issue. The article focuses on Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Carrollton was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and the last surviving signatory of the document.

Margaret Thatcher is honored as the “In the Liberal Tradition” figure. “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul,” Thatcher once told the Sunday Times.

There is more content in this issue of Religion & Liberty and you can find it all on our publications page. Check out my editor’s notes for the issue too.