The Discomfort of Liberty
At every turn in our politics, families, and faith we continue to let go of liberty. The simple definition of liberty: the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views.
Governments impose laws when their charge was to allow each of us to be in our own definition of the “pursuit of happiness”. Parents do not offer reason or purpose for their choices but demand children see things as they do. Churches expect blind faith and separation from the very world we were sent to serve.
I recently read John Milton’s “Aeropagitica” while flying to his hometown of London.
Milton was one of the great minds of the late renaissance. I join millions in claiming him as the greatest poet in the English language. While many of Milton’s theological arguments and societal beliefs deserves question, if not rejection, there are elements of truth we can pull from the monarch hating, epic writing, divorce-supporting Puritan.
Areopagitica is a speech for liberty to the English Parliament. Some of Milton’s views were not welcomed and there was an attempt to censor some of his writings as well as those of others that conflicted with the Anglican and Puritan faiths. In his speech, Milton gives some of the best arguments ever presented for freedom of the press, freedom of access, and freedom of thought.
In the modern world censoring is more discrete and yet the same as 1645. It takes the form of dismissal of an idea from an argument. It does not allow holistic thinking. It separates facts from values. It does not allow viable evidence in court. Censoring is alike in the denial of access to conflicting arguments, removes elements from textbooks, forgets that history has already addressed the discussion, and forbids access to text that are not blessed by the establishment.
We now also find ourselves in a "cancel culture" and many groups seek to silence or remove any counter thought.
As a nation we must permit some things we despise. As parents we must permit critical thinking and as a church we must read more of our enemies than our friends.
Why should we avoid censoring? Why should we allow those we love access to dangerous ideas? I will share a few of Milton’s thoughts, but beg you to take the time to add Areopagitica to your mental library.
Ideas good or bad must be allowed to live in order to learn. If there are no vices, there are no virtues. If there is not bad metaphysics then how does one know what constitutes good metaphysics?
We may yet learn from those whom we disagree. Nietzsche forces us to struggle with our thought. He was intelligent, but greatly misdirected. While his arguments are persuasive, we can see through his own application they are damning. We need to remember his great statement from “The Gay Science” that "God is dead". We must wrestle with his applications from “Beyond Good and Evil”. We should be sharing his ideas in our homes, pulpits and classrooms. We should all struggle with his ideas and form conclusions freely. Nietzsche reveals much about man and God in his writing. We should not only keep his books on our shelves, but read them, share them and discuss them.
Most Christians have never read Nietzsche, let alone know his name, but he is speaking from the grave and society is drinking his Kool-Aid though they have never read the packaging. To avoid or forget is a form of censor. “Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image, but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God as it were in the eye,” writes John Milton.
The Apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians, “Prove all things, hold fast to what is good.”
Without access to the ideas of the ages we will fail to provide good argument. Milton speaks of Dionysius Alexandrinus who wrote in 240 AD, “Read any books whatever come to thy hands, for thou art sufficient both to judge aright and to examine each matter.”
Milton asks us not to fear like many do about, the spreading of an infectious idea or the unnecessary exposure to temptation. He states, “A fool will be a fool with the best book, yea or without a book,” and, “A wise man will make better use of an idle pamphlet, than a fool will do of sacred scripture.” We must encourage access to the great books and the difficult ideas and trust our friends, families and faithful with the material. Or, do we assume everyone the fool?
“For God sure esteems the growth and completing of one virtuous person more than the restraint of ten vicious.” (Milton, Aeropagitica”
In the faith we start a new believer out with some denominational pamphlet, instead of helping build their thought an argument with a read of “The Republic”. Our disconnection of ideas and putting on the blinder of specifically generated writing to push a single form of thought is the worst and most deceptive of form censor. It is why discipleship looks so poor today and is generally so ineffective.
The dissuasion of articles from our enemies in fact exposes us in the Christendom to the great epidemic of our day, heresy. Today the “prosperity gospel”, “super spirituality”, “prophetic word”, “sinner’s prayer” are heresies that are drunk with no understanding of their fallacies.
“Truth is compared in the scriptures to a streaming fountain: if her waters flow not in s perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition. A man may be a heretic in the truth, and if he believe things only because his pastor says so, or the Assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes heresy.” (Milton, Aeropagitica)
Milton warns us in the faith and he warns the nation, for the censoring of ideas or writing is the death of a nation. “Consider what a nation is, thereof we are, and whereof ye are the governors: a nation not slow or dull, but of quick, ingenious and piercing spirit, acute to invent, subtle and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point the highest human capacity can soar to.”
Our governors attempt to step far beyond the Ten Commandments to control the virtue of man, yet they remove them from their courthouses. Add trillions of laws and at the heart of man still lays sin. We just do better to conceal it.
We must push back at each step our liberty is threatened. We must not permit the slightest insistence of invasion, conformity against principle, or censor. We have relented on our privacy, permitted the removal of faith from science, and given up over 30% of our earnings. We have permitted relativism to invade our faith while dissuading access to the documents that generated the ideas. We must permit and encourage access to the old documents and the counter arguments. As we reopen the past we may discover that a Deist like Thomas Paine might help us regain our “Common Sense”. We may discover that Descartes holds the keys to wrong doors in faith, and we may discover that Nietzsche in fact proves God is very much alive.
The greatest step we can take is to remove the censors in our own home and churches, and by doing so liberate and improve our thinking so we may then with God’s help, be better prepared to share Truth with others and argue for true liberty in our nation.