As we head into the fall of 2014, the world seems to be a very dark and uncertain place for those who practice the Christian faith. Between the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria (and the resulting slaughter and displacement of Christians in the middle east) and the seemingly relentless advance of secularism and rejection of traditional Christian values in the West, many Christians are wondering how Christianity can survive and advance in our modern world. In this edition of Radio Free Acton, Acton Institute Co-Founder and President Rev. Robert A. Sirico talks on this topic with Os Guinness, public intellectual and author most recently of Reniassance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times. Guinness reminds us that our generation is not the first generation of Christians to face a world in flux, and gives advice on how Christians should face the uncertain future.
Few summed up the American Revolution for Independence better than Lord Acton when he declared, “No people was so free as the insurgents; no government less oppressive than the government which they overthrew.” I’ve written about Patriots’ Day on the Powerblog before, but it’s essentially a forgotten holiday. Only officially celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine and observed on the third Monday in April, Patriots’ Day commemorates the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19 of 1775. The Boston Marathon is run on Patriots’ Day and the Boston Red Sox play the only scheduled A.M. game in Major League Baseball.
It’s an important holiday. Unrest in the colonies towards the British Crown had been escalating for sometime. On April 18 1775, Thomas Gage, who was the British Commander in Boston, received orders from London to seize arms and powder being stockpiled by colonial rebels in Concord, Mass. As the Redcoats marched towards their objective, Paul Revere and others sounded the alarm through the countryside. For the first time, blood was shed between the colonial militiamen and the British Regulars. It is known in history as the “shot heard round the world.” The best book on the skirmishes is Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer. This is a must read for those interested in American history and the roots of our liberty.
As liberty in America dissipates, and as we become servants not masters of our government, Patriots’ Day should not be a forgotten holiday, but one that increases in significance. Remember, while a chief complaint was “no taxation without representation,” a tax rate of 2 to 3 percent galled the colonists.
In an interview with Christianity Today, social critic Os Guinness explains why religious liberty it necessary for societal flourishing:
Americans employ the term “religious freedom,” while Europeans prefer the roughly synonymous term “freedom of religion and belief.” In the book, you suggest something deeper and broader with the term “soul freedom.” What is “soul freedom”?
“Soul Liberty” was Roger Williams’s magnificent term for religious freedom. It stands over against those who confuse religious freedom with mere toleration, or shrink it to mean only the freedom to worship. It challenges those who view it simply as “freedom for the religious,” or think that when religion is dismissed, religious freedom can be ignored. As Article 1 of the Global Charter of Conscience declares, religious freedom is “the right to adopt, hold, freely exercise, share, or change one’s beliefs subject solely to the dictates of conscience and independent of all outside, especially governmental control.” Seen this way, freedom of religion and belief (which covers secularist worldviews too) is essential because it involves nothing less that our freedom to be human.
You call “soul freedom” the “golden key” to building a free, just, and equitable public square. How so?
Religious freedom is a foundational human right that should be guaranteed and protected simply for its own sake. But over and above that, numerous studies show that when religious freedom is respected, there are many social and political benefits, such as civility in public life, harmony in society as a whole, and vitality in the entrepreneurial sectors of civil society. Violations of religious freedom, such as the recent health care mandates hitting Catholic hospitals and other religious employers, are therefore not only wrong, but blind. As such requirements spread, they will cramp, if not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. One day our brave new government officials will go out in the morning and find there is no golden egg—and therefore they must spend more, and grow government even larger, to cover the gap created by the diminishing of the faith-based organizations.
Below is my review of A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future by Os Guinness. A final version of this book review will appear in the Fall 2012 Journal of Markets & Morality (15.2). You can subscribe here.
A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future. By Os Guinness (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2012). 205 pages
Review: A Free People’s Suicide
That our republic suffers from disorder and decay is no secret. The moral and economic order appears increasingly chaotic and lacks a deeper meaning. The country, bitterly divided politically, cannot agree on the purpose of freedom. Frustration has turned into increased political activism and fragmentation, and perhaps the only national agreed-upon principle is that people feel increasingly separated from their own government.
The current year (2012) has seen some like-minded books published to address the magnanimity of the crisis we face. Sound thinkers such as Arthur Brooks and Rev. Robert Sirico have offered up, respectively, The Road to Freedom and Defending the Free Market. They are, without a doubt, worthwhile examinations of economics and our moral order. While there is no dearth of books to address our problems and its root causes, perhaps none is better than Os Guinness’s A Free People Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future.
Guinness trumpets a stirring defense of ordered liberty, examining the deep meanings of freedom and its ability to survive and perhaps flourish again. An assessment of freedom beyond the surface is truly central to our republic. Americans, as they have in the past, must once again ask, “How can a free Republic maintain its freedom?
Os Guinness makes the concise yet brilliant defense of the centrality of truth in the introduction to One Word of Truth: A portrait of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn by David Aikman.
This short introduction not only offers keen insight into Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, but directly speaks to the ills of our society.
Guinness points out that much of the West, to its detriment, paid closer attention to the political opposition to communism over the moral proposition on which it rested, thereby missing the true power of Solzhenitsyn. Spiritual freedom and political freedom are deeply intertwined. It is a sentiment articulated so well by the founders and framers of this nation. It has been largely forgotten today or simply misunderstood.
“Knowledge is power but truth is freedom,” says Guinness. Making the case for ordered liberty, Guinness adds that “without truth we are all vulnerable internally to passions and externally to manipulation.” He quotes Walter Lippmann who declared, “There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means to detect lies.” He echoes Lord Acton who stated that freedom is “not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”
This introduction is worth continually revisiting over one’s life. Guinness quotes the French philosopher Simone Weil, who stated, “We live in an age so impregnated with lies that even the virtue of blood voluntarily sacrificed is insufficient to put us back on the path of truth.” It’s a reminder of the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1, where he wrote that those lost in sin and without repentance are given over to their sinful desires. “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised,” says Paul. (Romans 1:25)
PowerBlog readers can thank Elizabeth Dyar of RaceFans4Freedom, another Solzhenitsyn admirer, for alerting me to this gem. Below is the recording of Os Guinness on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and truth:
I recently finished the advanced copy of Os Guinness’s A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future. I posted a previous excerpt on the topic of virtue in a free republic a couple of weeks ago.
In recent writing and speaking about President Calvin Coolidge, it is encouraging to study a leader who saw himself as a civic educator rather than an imperial president. We need a cultural change before we can ever expect reasonable change in the direction of our government. And let’s be honest, we need American people ready to think deeply about the direction of this country.
Guinness makes the case in his forthcoming book that the stakes are very high and self-government and sustainable freedom are at a precipice. Below is an excerpt from a A Free People’s Suicide on separation of powers and spheres of influence:
In short, the founders’ commitment to a separation of powers is more vital than ever today, and its current applications must go beyond a worn-out litany of clichés such as “limited government” and “get the government off our backs.” The rampant imperialism of the spheres must be reined in, and the citizens’ responsibility for the wider common good must be reinforced. Each sphere—business, law, education, entertainment and so on—must be reordered to serve the wider public good, and principles such as individual self-reliance, local self-government and state government must once again be given their proper roles. Not only must the latter be able to balance the dominance of federal government and provide a bulwark against the encroachments of bureaucratic overregulation, they must must also carry the robust human and ethical values that can prevent humanity being turned into a global supermarket where even souls are up for sale and profit is the measure of all things.
Unless America succeeds in such a reordering of the spheres, the present imperial hubris of the spheres will continue their runaway inflation, the tutelary state will expand its paternalistic smothering of individual freedom and and a politically and economically bloated America will resemble in its star-spangled obesity the enemies of freedom it has resisted so long and so heroically.
Right now I am reading an advanced copy of Os Guinness’s A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future. The book will be released by IVP on August 6. It’s an essential read and I pledge to publish a future review for our PowerBlog readers. Guinness was interviewed in Religion & Liberty in 1998.
In my recent talks around town I have been asking questions about our capacity and desire for self-government as a community and nation. I recently gave a local presentation on President Calvin Coolidge and he helped inspire a greater desire to ask the foundational questions. In my view, Coolidge saw public service as a chance to educate Americans in civics, elevating the greater truths from our revolutionary and founding period.
Below is a great excerpt from Guinness’s forthcoming book:
Beyond any question, the way the American founders consistently linked faith and freedom, republicanism and religion, was not only deliberate and thoughtful, it was also surprising and anything but routine. In this view, the self-government of a free republic had to rest on the self-government of free citizens, for only those who can govern themselves as individuals can govern themselves as a people. As for an athlete or a dancer, freedom for a citizen is the gift of self-control, training and discipline, not self-indulgence.
The laws of the land may provide external restraints on behavior, but the secret of freedom is what Englishman Lord Moulton called “obedience to the unenforceable,” which is a matter of virtue, which in turn is a matter of faith. Faith and virtue are therefore indispensable to freedom – both to liberty itself and to the civic vitality and social harmony that go hand in hand with freedom.
Burke wrote in full agreement, “Manners [or moral standards] are of more importance than laws.” Rousseau had written similarly that mores, customs, and traditions, which are “engraved neither in marble nor in bronze but in the hearts of the citizens” form “the true Constitution of the State” and the “Keystone of the Republic.”
Tocqueville emphatically agreed. His objective in writing Democracy in America was not to turn Frenchmen into Americans, for liberty should take many forms. “My purpose has rather been to demonstrate, using the American example, that their laws and, above all, their manners can permit a democratic people to remain free.”