Is the New Testament the basis of political freedom?

In response to my quotation of Paul, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” a correspondent writes: “Are you seriously suggesting this passage is about political freedom?”

I wrote in reply:

I’m suggesting it has to do with Christian freedom. And Christian freedom (not Athenian democracy) is the root of Western and American freedom.

Without the Christian experience that each human being, in relation to God through Christ, finds his soul, the true order of his being, which is true liberty, and which is not of any earthly power, there would not have been the liberal idea of rights. Locke in his Second Treatise of Government bases man’s rights on his being a creation and son of God. A very watered down form of Christianity, to be sure, but without Christianity there would have been no Locke. (I am not suggesting of course that Locke is the whole basis of the American understanding of liberty, but he is certainly an important part of it.) And Judaism wouldn’t have been enough because it is less articulated in terms of the relations between God and the world, and between man and society. Also, rabbinic Orthodox Judaism is Eastern rather than Western.

There was a very interesting book about ten years ago by a well-known conservative (I forget his name at the moment) showing how our notion of liberty comes from Christianity and the Christian Middle Ages, not from the classical world, which, despite democracy, saw the state as absolute. It was Christianity that articulated the world into the secular and spiritual, and so created a sphere that is sovereignly independent of any earthly power. And that’s how we came, ultimately, to the words, “[A]ll men are … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”

At the same time, to avoid misunderstanding, it must be added that Christianity is not a sufficient basis for the formation of society, and can be highly destructive to society if misapplied, as I wrote in my article, “How Liberal Christianity Promotes Open Borders.” As Churchill said, statesmen do not use the New Testament as their guidebook. There is no escaping the sometimes dauntingly complex articulation of God, world, man, and society that is Western civilization. We can only escape it by ceasing to be Western, just as we can only escape the sometimes daunting complexities of the Christian religion by ceasing to be Christian.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 20, 2005 05:04 PM | Send

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