“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”
– Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
The world where freedom of religion, let alone freedom of speech, is now regarded by some (many?) as a problem for a free society rather than a basic foundation of the same is indeed a strange new world.
Freedoms once considered self-evident – religion and speech – now must be destroyed, apparently, to save them. Yes, you say, regarding speech – we heard just this said on capitol hill by the former Twitter execs. They had to destroy free speech to save it.
But no one is destroying religion to save it, you say – they don’t want to save it, only destroy it. This, however, is incorrect, as there will always be religion. Just not the one you have grown to cherish. They must destroy your religion in order to save theirs. And their religion is the religion that Trueman has described in his book.
In this new religion, your traditional rights must end where my expressive individualism begins. Practically defining expressive individualism in the most succinct manner, Justice Anthony Kennedy would write, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992):
At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.
Individuals have the right to define for themselves their identity…and more. In this single sentence, the road to the end of traditional freedoms was made clear. If each has the right – the right at the heart of liberty – to create their own…everything (even the concept of the universe?), then any encroachment on their self-generated definitions is to be considered a violation of their rights. They have property rights in whatever they feel about themselves to be true; this is expressive individualism.
Tolerance was never going to be enough; to tolerate someone is to disapprove of them but allow their continued existence. Recognition, in the old-fashioned sense, was never going to be enough; it now must mean to affirmation. Equality was never going to be enough; superiority and dominance is the objective.
Turning these concepts on their head was always the objective. This can be seen in Herbert Marcuse, and his essay Repressive Tolerance:
This essay examines the idea of tolerance in our advanced industrial society. The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed.
How to achieve this end?
…it must begin with stopping the words and images which feed this consciousness. To be sure, this is censorship, even pre-censorship, but openly directed against the more or less hidden censorship that permeates the free media.
It always had to result in a loss of freedom of speech, and, therefore, inherently, a loss of freedom of religion.
Returning to Trueman. If we are, as Justice Kennedy wrote, free to create our own reality about ourselves and even the universe, then anything that stands in the way – whether thought, word, or deed – is a violation of rights. Pronouns and wedding cakes are legitimate cause for confrontation, as those who do not use my preferred pronouns or bake a cake for my alphabet soup wedding are violating my property rights in my imagined self.
A Christian objects to homosexuality as a set of sexual practices. But this is irrelevant. To object is a denial of the gay man as a person – his person has been erased. One cannot hate the sin but love the sinner – the sin is the identity of the sinner. The two cannot be separated.
…in a world where inner psychology dominates how we think of ourselves, then feelings too become very important in how we conceptualize harm.
Which is why restricting religious views is a subset of the bigger desire to restrict speech. And here, another supreme court ruling is relevant – with ramifications that may or may not have been intended, nevertheless are coming into play.
In Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), it was ruled that speech likely to cause imminent lawless action was not protected. How might this be applied when one has the right to invent and reinvent one’s self continuously, and to not affirm another in their invention is a violation of their rights – even to be considered violent?
When violence moves from the physical and financial to the psychological…everything changes.
When the words said effect the psychological condition of another, this is violence. Such speech is the lawless action; the lawless action is inherent in the speech.
The existence of the traditional Christian is a threat to the person who identifies as transgender; the person who teaches Western civilization is a threat to the person whose identity is framed by the repudiation of the colonialist past.
And such threats cannot be tolerated. They are, or soon enough will be, illegal. Which leads to a quote by Heinrich Heine:
“Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.”
Trueman concludes his book with the recognition that the narrative he has told is a somewhat depressing one for traditional Christians. What, then, is to be done? First, Trueman notes: face our complicity in the expressive individualism of the day.
He offers an example that makes clear the reality that every Christian in the West is, in a manner, Protestant. We are each free to attend any type of church – all forms of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches are available to almost all Christians. It is, if you will, a manner of expressing our individualism.
We go to the church that makes us feel good, or that doesn’t stress us too much. In other words, where our felt needs are met. We are more concerned with how the church makes us feel than how well the church conforms to Biblical issues that might makes us feel…uncomfortable.
Do we look back to the Reformation for the model that offers the solution to our time? The high Middle Ages in the Western Church? The synergy of the Eastern Church? No. Trueman suggests we look back to the first and second century Church, a time when the Church was also the outlaw, the persecuted minority. A time when Christianity was a marginalized sect, little understood, considered immoral and seditious.
Eating the body and blood of their god and calling each other “brother” and “sister” even when married made Christians and Christianity sound highly dubious to outsiders.
And claiming Jesus as Lord! Not the words a Roman Caesar would want to have spoken in his empire. All of this is much more akin to our time than going back to the most triumphant periods of the eastern or western Churches.
In this earliest of churches, community was central to church life. Christians cared for and served each other. Identity was shaped by these communities. The church was the strongest community in which Christians belonged.
Christians talk of engaging the culture, but the culture was most dramatically engaged in the earliest centuries by presenting it with another culture.
The church protests the wider culture by offering a true vision of what it means to be a human being made in God’s image.
It wasn’t a negative argument regarding their enemies; it was a positive argument regarding Christians and Christianity.
Which brings me to Trueman’s final recommendation. But a few pages before he gets there, he writes:
…we [Christians] can become so preoccupied with specific threats that we neglect the important fact that Christian truth is not a set of isolated and unconnected claims but rather stands as a coherent whole. The church’s teaching on gender, marriage, and sex is a function of her teaching on what it means to be human.
Which got me to scream, “natural law.” But why doesn’t Trueman say it? Patience, I would come to learn. A few pages later, he devotes a section to what he calls “Natural Law and the Theology of the Body,” writing that the church needs to recover this idea.
So what is natural law? Put simply, it is the idea that the world in which we live is not simply morally indifferent “stuff” but possesses in itself a moral structure.
As I have commented elsewhere, natural law is the integration of the physical world and the world of Christian values. It is also necessary, as I have written here, as a foundation for liberty and necessary as the solution to the meaning crisis (itself a result of the belief that the world and everything in it, including us, is made up of simply morally indifferent “stuff”).
Human beings are made to flourish in some specific ways, and not in others. We recognize this in many aspects of life – for example, we cannot fly under our own strength. Natural law merely extends such realities beyond the physical to the moral. When it comes to sex, well…the form and nature of the male and female body make obvious the purpose of each.
Why does Trueman introduce this idea of natural law? He sees it as an important part of the pedagogical strategy within the church itself. In other words, we need not present various moral issues as merely commands from on high. In the design of creation, answers can be found:
Does God forbid homosexuality simply because he is a mean tyrant? Is it just that he does not want my gay friends to be happy?
Natural law offers another, rather obvious, set of answers to such questions.
This ends my work on Trueman’s book. He offers an interesting narrative as to how the events of the fall we are living in are connected. Why it is that the fall had to come to completely destroy every traditional notion of what it meant to be a man or a woman and how the two are meant to live; why this had to result in an attack on both traditional Christianity and freedom of speech.
Most interesting to me: in addition to his other recommendations for attending to our community in our local church and our surroundings, he ended on the need to teach, understand, and practice natural law ethics.
The road to recovery for both our liberty and for offering meaning in life must pass through a regaining of natural law ethics. It certainly will, eventually, as natural law cannot be violated indefinitely: either men will teach it and live it, or it will violently and ruthlessly defend itself.
God doesn’t have to actively punish fallen societies. He built the mechanism of punishment into His creation. We appear to be destined for a time that this will, once again, be so.
Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mo0squito.