Friday, November 22, 2013

Christianity and Liberty?

Roger Williams
Roger Williams University

Baylor President Ken Starr sent forth "Thanksgiving Blessings from Baylor" (November 20, 2013) to current and former students, so I received one and was greatly interested in a couple of paragraphs on religious freedom:
The early English settlers in the New World included Roger Williams. Founder of the State of Rhode Island and co-founder of the first Baptist church in America, Williams stood as a bold early champion of religious freedom. As tirelessly advocated by that great Christian leader and patriot, the principles of "soul liberty" and freedom of conscience have for centuries served as bedrock tenets of Baptist thought. These foundational principles deeply inform Baylor's rich history and mission. Today, nearly 375 years after Roger Williams founded that congregation in New England, religious freedom remains an essential attribute of personal liberty and human dignity. At Baylor, we are fully committed to maintaining and deepening the culture of freedom. Tragically, that culture is in danger around the world.

Next month, I will have the high privilege of participating in an international conference concerning Christianity's role in the never-ending struggle for religious liberty. The conference -- entitled "Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives" -- will be held in Rome. Organized by Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Project and co-sponsored by Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion, the global conference will explore Christianity's contributions to human freedom in the face of two millennia of strenuous opposition and cruel persecution. As we look ahead to this internationally significant conference, I was honored to have the opportunity recently to author an opinion piece on this very topic, published in the Dallas Morning News. The op-ed addresses the upcoming conference, the cause of religious freedom more generally, and the here-and-now persecution globally of the Christian church. This is a topic of profound importance to our hurting world and to all who lift up the ideal of religious liberty. In the spirit of Roger Williams, let us rededicate ourselves to these noble, deeply Biblical principles.
But I wonder how deeply Biblical this religious liberty is. President Starr himself acknowledges a spotty history of Christianity on this issue in his op-ed piece, "The triple tragedy of Christian persecution in Middle East" (Dallas Morning News, November 10, 2013):
Christians have brought to the Middle East and elsewhere the ideas and institutions of freedom. While Christianity has its own mixed history, it has in the modern era championed equality under the law, economic opportunity and religious freedom for all people.
But the crucial question is: Has Christianity championed these because they are Biblical . . . or because they are modern? Presumably, this very question will be broached at the conference President Starr refers to, "Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives," and for more on that conference to be held in Rome this coming December, go to Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Project, which likewise acknowledges Christianity's spotty record:
The Christianity and Freedom Project is timed to coincide with the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan of 313 CE, which officially granted religious freedom to adherents of all faiths throughout the Roman Empire. This initiative will catalyze scholarly exploration and focus global attention on our hypothesis: that Christianity has made important contributions to defining and promoting freedom. The project and its research will fully recognize that Christianity has had a mixed record concerning freedom and human rights. Its broad objective is to explore critically the ways in which Christianity has fostered civic innovation and political and economic progress even -- or especially -- in the face of opposition. Although other religious and non-religious traditions have also made important contributions to the development of freedom, we believe Christianity's contributions in history and in the contemporary world have not received adequate scholarly and public attention, and therefore merit focused investigation.
The Edict of Milan under the emperor Constantine in 313 did promulgate religious freedom to all, but as the Church gained strength, and Christianity became the Roman Empire's official religion under the emperor Theodosius I in 380, religious freedom began to decrease, with Christians becoming the persecutors of other religions.

Christianity's record on freedom is therefore spotty in deed and spotty indeed . . .

Labels: ,


At 9:12 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

My Title


As you know, the Afterword in the International Authors edition of The Scarlet Letter addresses these very issues. It looks like "modernism" was in fact drawn from Independent English Calvinist theology, with Milton being the chief exponent and architect of this philosophical project. The evidence is particularly compelling in such essential American texts as The Declaration of Independence, The Virginia Act of Religious Freedom, The Scarlet Letter, Moby-Dick, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This is John Locke's project as well, although he usually isn't read in this way.

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

For what it's worth:

John Locke's Place in Intellectual History

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

What would interest me is what brought about an interpretation of scripture conducive too liberty, democracy, and equality.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 4:46 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

That is in fact the point of departure in the opening to Locke's Letter on Toleration, which is not only an instructive and fascinating essay, but is also a vehicle for enjoying Locke's engaging and pleasant personality.

I look forward to your blog entries as you pursue this subject.

At 5:06 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The issue has long preoccupied me (and Hans Blumenberg is useful to read), but I don't know that I'll have much to say before the report from Rome is filed.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 5:09 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

And I blogged on your blog...


At 5:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Now, I'm put on the spot . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

About that letter from John Locke...

"Nobody is born a member of any church; otherwise the religion of parents would descend unto children by the same right of inheritance as their temporal estates, and everyone would hold his faith by the same tenure he does his lands, than which nothing can be imagined more absurd. Thus, therefore, that matter stands. No man by nature is bound unto any particular church or sect, but everyone joins himself voluntarily to that society in which he believes he has found that profession and worship which is truly acceptable to God."

True in theory but not in practice. Most humans probably have practiced at least nominally the religion their parents raised them to follow.

"Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration. "

That gem was worth scrolling down to discover.


At 12:03 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

A lot of religious people still think that way.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly, you are correct although I anticipate this will change as the Miillennials lead the seismic shift in attitudes toward organized religion and its teachings on homosexuality and other victimless sins.


At 3:13 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

"The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration."

Agreed, but you have to be careful with Locke. This may sound like theology, but there is a strong case to be made that Locke makes such statements for political reasons.

Considered epistemologically, it is also a statement of skepticism. Locke's "somewhat" unknown God and his universe becomes a pit in which to cast credulous scientific theory. Some people, remember, have to explain EVERYTHING--Kant, Hegel, and so on--idealism. Locke's "god" is an epistemological/grammatical tool that preserves our ability to say, "Yeah, 'something' is going on but what ever that something is, it is NOT your credulous theory." And I believe this is central to the distinction between continental and British philosophy.

Another thing to ask is, why would Locke say something like this but Jefferson might not, and what is it in Locke (and Milton, I would argue) that is moving us towards secularism? Philosophical method? Political ends? The (upper) middle class getting on its feet?

At 9:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yeah, 'something' is going on but what ever that something is, it is NOT your credulous theory."

People who believe information and ideas readily are credulous. The information and ideas themselves are not.

"Another thing to ask is, why would Locke say something like this but Jefferson might not, and what is it in Locke (and Milton, I would argue) that is moving us towards secularism? Philosophical method? Political ends? The (upper) middle class getting on its feet?"

Jefferson was a deist who explicitly rejected the divinity of Jesus. Locke explicitly rejected the Trinity but not the divinity of Jesus and never formally distanced himself from Christianity. The credit for the development of secular humanism belongs first and foremost to scientists themselves, who continue to lead us into new frontiers as we move away from old myths and legends. Locke mistrusted the moral compasses of atheists because people of his time did not know anything about genetic coding for positive behaviors that sustain living things cohabiting in groups. He regarded the human infant as a tabula rasa, in need of moral guidance from God through religion, with the promise of eternal life as a carrot and eternal damnation as a stick.


At 9:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

If the carrot is big enough, it can serve as a stick.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:07 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...


I refer you to the religious language in Jefferson's Virginia Act of Religious Freedom.

Please click here.

At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Virginia public school teacher, I am familiar with a similar document, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Jefferson references God but not Jesus, and as a deist who rewrote the New Testament, he had a personal stake in advocating religious freedom.


At 3:30 AM, Anonymous prenotaora said...

Questo sito รจ eccellente. Lo consiglio a tutti.
Ristoranti Catania


Post a Comment

<< Home