Freedom Forgets

“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.”

– Deuteronomy 4:9

Freedom forgets its faith heritage when one generation fails to pass that heritage down to successive generations. New ideas have grown up under the formerly Christian banner of religious freedom. The purveyors of those ideas have adapted freedom for their own purposes then redefined the freedom that facilitated their growth. Tolerance for other views has transformed to become affirmation for all except that which was originally heralded as the one exclusive truth: Jesus Christ.

Tolerating Tolerance

            In the modern world, the word that seems to be synonymous with freedom is tolerance. The idea of religious and political freedom brings with it the idea of “tolerance” for differing points of view. But what is tolerance? To some, tolerance means that we give room for the expression of differing views. To others it means traditional views must give way to alternative views. This happens because, according to apologist Michael Horner, 

Somehow, we move from simply allowing differing views to offering different views as equal. Assuming that truth only gets in the way of equality, no one view can be more true than another. Thus, exclusive claims to truth promote inequality and hence intolerance. Clearly this violates one’s rationality.1

J. Budziszewski of the Department of Government at the University of Texas defines tolerance as moral neutrality

The scandal of Neutrality is that its worshipers cannot answer the question ’Why be neutral?’ without committing themselves to particular goods – social peace, self-expression, self-esteem, ethnic pride, or what have you – thereby violating their own desideratum of Neutrality. Yet even this is merely a symptom of a deeper problem, namely, there is no such thing as Neutrality. It isn’t merely unachievable, like a perfect circle; it is unthinkable and unapproachable, like a square circle.2

For some, tolerance is nothing more than a clever political tool to do away with traditional values. 

Religious freedom in the United States was based squarely on Christian principles because most of the Founders (colonial and state) were so dramatically influenced by Christianity – not deism as some advocate.3 Our nation’s founders created a system of religious freedom that allowed people of any faith to enjoy freedom of worship in America–but that did not mean that the principles of those faiths were politically or socially supported in an equal manner. By the late 20thcentury, things had changed. 

Now, many American schools are “tolerant” of expressions of Islam, Wicca, and pagan faiths, but a student who says, “Merry Christmas,” in the halls, or who reads his Bible on his own time during recess may be subject to reprimand.4The growing trend to suppress the rights and expressions of Evangelicals in American public education has lead many organizations to establish advocacy groups and systems in defense of those rights. Such a need to proactively protect Evangelicals’ rights did not exist prior to the postmodern revolution. The need is perceived to be so great that one group “sent a legal memorandum to each of the more than 15,000 public school superintendents across the nation, warning them against censoring student religious expression.”5 According to Catholic Archbishop Celestino Migliore, “It might be paradoxical to say that in this age of globalization new forms of religious intolerance have also emerged. The greater exercise of individual freedoms may result in greater intolerance and greater legal constraints on the public expressions of people’s beliefs.”6

Freedom at Home, Freedom Abroad

            This change from a Judeo-Christian culture to a postmodern culture is remarkable from the standpoint of religious freedom and missions, not only because these trends affect American domestic policy, but the effect they could eventually have on foreign policy. Attorney and author David Limbaugh has noted, “The cultural assumptions of our society influence changes in the law, and the culture is moving against the public expression of Christian belief.”7 This is not something American Christians think much about regarding missions–but perhaps we should. After all, America’s domestic policy helps steer our foreign policy. The principles of the Constitution are supposed to steer every area of American policy, foreign and domestic. As those principles have been redefined over the decades, so have the policies. If the principles of domestic religious freedom have been redefined against Christian expression in the public arena, then can we not expect America’s policies on religious freedom abroad to be affected? Have they not already been affected? According to international human rights lawyer, Nina Shea, “If human rights policy was an island, then religious freedom in the early and mid-1990s was the drowning man in the life raft, off the island, off the mainland.”8 One area where we see this happening is in America’s military deployments. “When our military members are deployed to Muslim nations the military discourages their witness,9 even to the point of discouraging the right to read the Bible privately.10 In August 2005 the United States Air Force released a draft set of guidelines on public prayer and religious observance. “The Air Force’s new guidelines on religious tolerance will discourage public prayer at official functions and urge commanders to be ‘sensitive’ about personal expressions of religious faith.”11 Could court marshals for prayer or religious speech be far behind? Who can forget the religious-freedom fiasco of Desert Storm? American GI Christians developing relationships with Saudis were ordered to restrict their personal expression of faith of Christ so as not to offend their Saudi hosts – whom America’s military was protecting. This is a classic example of the postmodern notion of tolerance impacting foreign policy relationships. It is also an example of how the suppression of religious speech is the suppression of religious conversion. Is this “religious freedom?”

Remember that America’s foreign policy is (supposed) to protect America’s interests abroad including our domestic interests. America’s greatest interests are expressed in freedom of speech, press, and conscience. We deny certain privileges to countries that don’t live up to certain human rights standards. In other words, America’s moral and philosophical values play a direct role in our domestic and foreign policy. What effect will the rolling tide of postmodernism eventually have on foreign policy, in addition to its already damaging effects on the domestic front? The late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has gone so far as to suggest that “Moral convictions are an unconstitutional basis for legislation.”12 If American domestic policy is changing as a result of it cultural shift to postmodernism, why should we not expect our foreign policy to do the same?

There is a potential danger in the combination of America’s foreign policy of advancing First Amendment freedoms internationally, coupled with the new postmodern interpretation of the “establishment of religion.” In the name of religious freedom, we could see foreign policy shift so that religious freedom will only be classified as a “private matter” of nations, much as American liberals have successfully done in the United States. According to the Freedom House report, Religious Freedom in the World, during the administration of President Bill Clinton,

Secretary of State Madeline Albright opposed the initiative in principle for establishing a “hierarchy of human rights,” and, in an address at Catholic University Columbus Law School, seemed to take the discredited view that religious freedom is not a universal or God-given right but culturally relative: “We must also take into account the perspectives and values of others.” This she said, moreover, in opposing a bill solely directed at  “Widespread and ongoing [acts of] abduction, enslavement, killing, imprisonment, forced mass relocation, rape, crucifixion, or other forms of torture.”13

The result of such political positioning over religious freedom could be a weakening or withdrawal in defending missionary activity. If scripture-laden monuments and historical displays constitute an “establishment of religion,” if religious schools licensed by the government constitute an “establishment of religion,” if elected officials openly expressing their faith in the public square constitute an “establishment of religion,” then how much more a foreign policy, which has the benefit of protecting American missionaries who seek to “establish their religion” on foreign soil? 

Just as America’s evangelical culture shaped the nation and its political philosophies for nearly 200 years, so too, will postmodernism alter America’s foreign policy on First Amendment freedoms, if it continues to successfully advance its cultural and judicial dominance. The principles that birthed modern political freedom will disappear along with the historic reputation of its chief advocate. 

According to writer Paul Marshall of the Center for Religious Freedom, 

Religious freedom is historically the first freedom in the growth of human rights and often has more to do with the growth of democracy than does a direct focus on political activity itself. Integrating religious issues and concerns into a coherent policy is extremely difficult, of course. While all human rights pressures make realists nervous, religion carries the added burden of touching on very deep–seated commitments. But America’s historic concern for freedom will not be sustained without a more informed and urgent appreciation of religious freedom.14

Freedom’s Prevailing Trend is “Restriction”

Opponents have targeted modern evangelicalism’s political expression with massive restrictions. Political and religious liberals have worked unceasingly to marginalize, restrict, or deny religious conservatives a place in public discourse. This is all done under the banner of “tolerance.” According to Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, “The campaign to purge expressions of faith from the public square is pervasive, national, and well-organized.”15 Cornyn’s remarks came on the release of a 51-page report by the Liberty Legal Institute on persecution of religious expression in America. The report details 191 cases attempting to restrict U.S. religious groups’ freedom of expression in the public arena. According to Liberty Legal Institute’s Chief Counsel, Kelly J. Shackleford, “Hostility to religious expression is real, and much too frequent, to an extent that it would be shocking to most Americans.”16 She goes on to note in the report that for every such case being prosecuted, there are nine other instances of religious persecution going on that never see a courtroom. 

The suppression of religious speech is, to be clear, the suppression of religious conversion. This stands in contrast to the reason America’s settlers came to the New World – to protect and expand religious conversion and expression. For Evangelicals religious conversion is the primary purpose of religious speech outside of its own community. This is the Missionary Principle. Christians want to share their values, their beliefs, and their God with others around them. They want others to voluntarily embrace what they believe. All they seek is the free opportunity to talk with others about what they believe. Religious expression in the public and the private arena is a natural part of what people do as they express their lives. The atheist expresses his belief just as equally as the person who believes in a deity—though the person with a belief in an eternal destiny tends to speak more about his passion. However, the move to suppress public religious expression puts the advancement of religion in jeopardy—and perhaps in a postmodern world that is the goal. By hindering the expression of religious belief and speech on the domestic front, the move to express religious speech on the foreign front may also be curtailed. At the moment we are fortunate that American policy on religious speech favors freedom; but will it always? Is not the nature of modern politics compromise and change?

Europe: A Model for America?

Europe’s history is fraught with the triumph and a failure of Christendom. But throughout history, Europeans recognized Christianity’s place in the larger society–its moral values, community, and religious expressions. Yet where are those expressions and values now? There are many Christians in Europe, but why does European culture reflect a decidedly anti-Christian, anti-evangelical, anti-Biblical approach to life? Why is it getting worse? A hint is provided by Walter Sundberg, history teacher at Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary: 

The story of Christianity in Europe is a sad account of the marginalization of “monopolistic” territorial religions. Despite the sophistication of their theology and the hoary prestige of their ecclesiastical orders, the European churches have failed to market their “product.” In modernity, monopoly is as bad for church growth as it is for a commercial economy. By the same token, pluralism in religious choice encourages the emergence of healthy religious movements.17

In Europe, the trend away from Christianity and toward an even more postmodern society may be seen in the debate over the recently rejected European Constitution: 

As evidence of the growing hostility toward Christianity in Europe, the French prelate [Cardinal Paul Poupard] cited “the categorical rejection of a reference to the Christian roots of Europe in the preamble to the constitution for the European Union.” That rejection, he argued, was a refusal to acknowledge historical reality. It is, he continued, ‘more than simple anti-clericalism,’ because it seeks to eradicate the evidence of Christian faith.18

Cardinal Poupard also cited examples of the growing persecution of Christians in Europe, which is largely ignored.

The Cardinal’s claim that the European Union seeks to eradicate the evidence of the Christian roots of Europe should not be taken lightly. Historic European churches are typically regarded as tourist attractions, much like the Pyramids of Egypt. Christianity is seen as a religion of the past; with God being just another myth, and belief in God is a historical, social, or perhaps even a biological aberration.

The trend toward the suppression of religious speech in America is no different from the trend in Europe, or anywhere else. Time, technology and culture may vary the application, but the evolution of the anti-religious sentiment is the same. In one sense, it may even mimic the evolution of the Reformation in that the anti-religious sentiment is part of the growth of what might be considered anti-establishment ideas. Regardless of whatever form the trend takes, it seems to be universal and part of man’s nature to go his own way, apart from God. Man forgets his roots, whether willingly or as a matter of ignorance from the failures of the previous generations. At some point, he has to create new philosophies and new values to replace that which he only partially remembers or purposefully shuns. Ironically, postmodernism has done something that no other cultural shift in history has done: Rather than creating new philosophies and values it simply says there are no values. This is why it is so critical to pass on our heritage of faith–and its historic values to each successive generation. It should not escape our attention that right on the heels of the Greatest Commandment God instructed the people of Israel to pass on their history and heritage. 

When your son asks you in time to come, saying, “What do the testimonies and the statutes, and the judgments mean which the Lord our God commanded you?’ Then you shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand. Moreover, the Lord showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household; He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers. So, the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today. It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us.” (Deuteronomy 6:20-25)

For Israel, getting to know and love God was directly tied to learning the history of what He had done for them. The same is no less true for our nation, or a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Notes

  1. Tolerance and Truth, Michael Horner, ©July 13, 2002. Leadership U. (www.leaderu.com/common/horner-tolerance.html) 
  2. The Illusion of Moral Neutrality, J. Budziszewski Copyright ©1993 First Things 35 (August/September 1993): 32-37 (www.firstthings.com). 
  3. Letter to Editors: The Founding Fathers and Deism, David Barton, copyright ©2003, Wallbuilders (www.wallbuilders.com/resources/search/detail.php?ResourceID=29).
  4. School Faces Legal Action for Banning Students’ Recess Bible Study, Jim Brown Copyright ©May 18, 2005 Agape Press (headlines.agapepress.org/archive/5/182005c.asp).
  5. Group launches campaign to educate public school officials about the constitutional rights of religious students, Agape Press, November 19, 2004. (www.religionjournal.com/printerfriendly.asp?id=1681) 
  6. Vatican Warns of Rising Religious Intolerance, November 19, 2004, Peggy Polk, Religious News Service (www.religionjournal.com/showarticle.asp?id=1692&ardate=10/29/2004)
  7. Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War against Christianity, Copyright ©2004 David Limbaugh, Introduction page x; Perennial, Harper Collins Publishers.
  8. Religious Freedom in the World: A Global Report of Freedom and Persecution, “Religious Freedom and American Foreign Policy;” page 2, Copyright ©2000, Freedom House,  Broadman and Holman Publishers.
  9. “Discouraging the expression of religious speech is not the same as “ordering” it stopped, but for those intimidated, it can have the same effect.
  10. Missionary with Baptist Mission to Forgotten Peoples, July 2003. 
  11. Air Force Discourages Public Prayer, Robert Weller, copyright ©August 29, 2005; Associated Press.
  12. God and Man at the Supreme Court: Rethinking Religion in Public Life, Kevin J Hasson, president of the Becket Fund. Heritage lecture #599, October 14, 1997 (www.heritage.org/Research/Religion/HL599.cfm).
  13. Religious Freedom in the World, “Freedom and American Foreign Policy;” Page 3, Copyright ©2000, Freedom House, Broadman and Holman Publishers.
  14. The First Freedom Under Siege, Paul Marshall, Copyright, First Things, ©April 2001. (www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0104/opinion/marshall.html)  
  15. Report Details Hostility to Religious Expression in America, Jody Brown, October 30, 2004 Catholic Exchange (www.catholicexchange.com/vm/index.asp?vm_id=43&art_id=25808)
  16. Examples of Hostility to Religious Expression in the Public Square, Liberty Legal Institute, October 8, 2004. (www.cornyn.senate.gov/LLI.pdf) 
  17. Beyond the Mainline Tale, Walter Sundberg, copyright, First Things, June/July 1993. ( www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9306/reviews/sundberg.html) 
  18. Vatican Cardinal Warns of Coming Persecution Against Christians in Europe, July 7, 2004, Life Site(www.lifesite.net/ldn/2004/jul/04070703.html)

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