Rigorous Freedom

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, June 7, 2017 0 comments

by David Odegard

“Life, liberty, property.” John Locke lists these as inalienable rights. He claimed that they come from God and are not granted by the state. but that good government will guarantee them to its people. Rather, these rights are retained within the individual person and can only be ceded temporarily to the state. Inalienable means that no one can separate them from the individual because they were placed there by God Himself. What God has joined, let no one put asunder.

But in America, we love politics. In many cases, politics is even more important than religion, because the political realm is perceived as the arena of real societal change. Sometimes even pastors abandon the church in order to enter the political stage, because they think that is the way to bring about real change. But Jesus didn’t do that. He came to set people truly free. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God what belongs to God. You belong to God. Expecting the state to supply you with what only God can give you is idolatry.

Americans love to worship government. But state worship is idolatry and Beast worship. I say it again, expecting from others what only God can give is idolatry. It is a false yielding of oneself.

Speaking of Beast worship reminds me of Thomas Hobbes’ book Leviathan. Hobbes drew the imagery of Leviathan from Job chapter 41. The Leviathan is a monster of high terror. No one can oppose it. Fear and submission are the only responses to it. Resistance is futile. As ugly and brutal as the Leviathan-esque government is, Hobbes believes it to be better than anarchy.

Hobbes claimed that without government, we have a state of total war: everyone against everyone. He believed that the only thing keeping people from torturing babies for fun was government and that is why God instituted it. He also believed that is why it had to possess absolute authority over people, as that was the only way to make them behave for their own good. Leviathan asserts that you shouldn’t be overly concerned if your government is capricious, violent, thieving, corrupt, or oppressive; just duck your head and obey. As long as it isn’t directly trying to kill you, just do as you’re told.

So, I suppose if an agent of the state says stop, you stop. If he says, “Papers,” you show them your papers. If she says, “Get in the cattle car,” you get in the cattle car. Only when you smell the Zyklon B are you allowed to try to run. Up to the direct threat on your life, your obedience is obligatory.

The opening illustration of the book is a woodcut by Abraham Bosse. It depicts (here) the Leviathan as a terror to all. It wears a chainmail shirt made of human skulls and carries a sword and a staff. It is depicted as reigning far above church and people in absolute, unassailable authority. What you can expect in a Hobbes-ordered state is protection (from foreigners, but not the king) and a life of absolute obedience. As Gerald Ford might have said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”

This idea that the state is in charge and we ought always to obey is not American and it is not Christian. America was modeled largely after the political philosophy of John Locke, who believed the authority of government was dependent on the will of the people. The people are the actual source of authority, rulers hold power by their permission. And in the American system three values are held as primary life, liberty, property. As I showed last week, this is Christian.

Thomas Jefferson substituted “pursuit of happiness” in place of property. This did not destroy the enshrinement of property; rather, he wanted to make a statement that we are free to pursue the good life.

Two kinds of freedom - libertine and eudemonistic - are available to us and we must spend our lives pursuing one or the other, but government can only give us the opportunity for the one by securing the other. I will explain that next week.

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