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Made for Freedom?

In Devotional, Worldview on October 12, 2013 at 8:31 am

RelationshipsWhen I got married, I was no longer free.  I couldn’t play League of Legends whenever I wanted.  I couldn’t eat chicken wings in bed.  I had to tell my wife that I was going down to the store to get a jug of milk.

But I don’t mind.  Not at all.

I’m not sure why exactly.  It’s not because I’ve somehow gained more than I’ve lost–it’s more like I’ve gained what I lost as well as gained what I’ve gained.  It doesn’t really make sense but that’s the way it is.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.  I think that this sort of counterintuitive accounting occurs when anyone is in a good relationship.

A. C. Grayling  recently presented the first of eight  “Fragile Freedoms” lectures on CBC’s Ideas.  In it he said that there is no possibility of living the good life if one is not free.

Grayling, along with most other modernists, would be right if human beings were made for autonomy.  But what if we weren’t primarily made to be free?  What if we were made first for something else?

What if we were made for relationship?  Not just in marriage, but in friendship and family, and not just with people but with animals and even the physical world.

The Biblical story suggests human beings are made to be in relationship, first with their Creator and, after, with everything else.  We were made to be the objects of God’s love.  He says through Jeremiah, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (31:3).  Suppose we were made to receive and the to return his love and to spread it out to the rest of the creation?

If this is the purpose for which we were made, freedom is still a very important part of who we are.   Love is impossible without freedom.  There is no possibility to love someone if there is no freedom to reject their love.  It’s all there in Genesis 1-3.  Humanity was created for relationship with God (and with each other and with the world).  We had a choice and chose to reject God’s love.  This didn’t change our purpose, just our ability to fulfill it.

So who is right about human nature?  The modernists like Grayling or those who adhere to the Biblical view of man?

There is a simple test:  Who experiences more fulfillment in life?  The person whose freedom is expressed through relationships or the one whose relationship is subordinate to his freedom.

In my experience, freedom is best enjoyed in the context of relationships, even though you surrender it most of the time.  I think this is a universal experience when we are talking about “good” relationships.  Those who insist on freedom first will be able to eat chicken wings in bed, but they won’t have anyone who cares that they stepped out for a jug of milk.

The Story of Human Rights

In Christ and Culture on October 2, 2013 at 1:05 am

Secular freedom storyWhile driving to one lecture, I was listening to another.  The one I was listening to was delivered by A. C. Grayling on CBC’s Ideas. This was the first of eight “Fragile Freedoms” lectures held at the not yet officially opened Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg (listen here).

This is an excellent lecture. It’s clear, unified, thorough and entertaining, but in his historical survey of the development of the idea of rights, Grayling begins in the wrong place.

His story beings in the 16th century. It goes like this: In the Reformation, humanity took its first step toward the freedoms that culminated in the Enlightenment and were embodied in the documents of the French and American Revolutions. Martin Luther and the other reformers freed people from the hegemony of the church by giving them direct and individual access to God without the mediation of the church. This freedom Grayling calls “liberty of conscience” and it began an “inevitable “process leading to “liberty of thought” and then “liberty of action.” These liberties led to the freedom to ask all sort of questions, first, of the natural world, which led to the scientific revolution, and then, of the social and political systems, which resulted in the revolutions in France and America.

Grayling is telling the Modern Story, the dominant story in our culture. It is a story of, among other things, the quest for individual human autonomy. Because Grayling’s story of the idea of human rights is rooted in the story of the human quest for autonomy, he starts at the point where the this quest began, 1517.

It is generally agreed upon that human freedoms and rights are a good thing. And we all like to take credit for good things. The Soviets claimed credit for the invention of the telephone, the Dutch for the sinking of the Spanish Armada and the Americans for the invention of basketball. So too, the Moderns claim credit for human rights and freedoms, and they do this by linking human rights to the modern quest for autonomy.

But the idea of human rights is not, in the first place, rooted in autonomy but rather in the idea of human worth. And this idea has a much more ancient origin.

Why should we respect the rights and freedoms of other people?

 

Because they must be free to be human or BECAUSE they are human they ought to be free?

 

Genesis 1:27 says, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” The Biblical story says that human beings–male and female–were created with inherent value.

It is likely we are not all that impressed at such a declaration. We have heard them, literally for millennia. (And this is sort of my point; we’ve heard them so long, we were bound to listen to them at some point.) But how would they would have sounded like in the ancient world–ridiculous, preposterous?

The cultures that dominated the ancient near east, Early Babylonian and Egyptian, revolved around a priest-king, who represented the gods and as such, needed to be treated like one. This idea was reinforced in the creation myths where humanity was created for the soul purpose of serving the Gods. The myth upheld the socio-political reality of the culture–inferior people are meant to serve the superior representative of the divine.  Imagine the how scandalous the idea that mankind–both male AND FEMALE–itself was the image, read “replacement for the idol.”  This idea was immediately reinforced in the next chapter (2:20) when we see Adam naming things, an activity carried out by the gods in the stories of other cultures.

The idea that human beings were not existential equivalent to the muck on the god’s celestial shoes would have been unthinkable, yet it is this radical idea of human value that undergirds the entire Bible.  Jesus summarizes the law and the prophets, which amounts to pretty much the entire Old Testament, saying love God more than anything and “your neighbour as yourself.” Further, the central event in the Bible, Christians would say in human history, is the son of God giving up his life for the world and its people.  And the reason consistently given for this sacrifice is God’s love for people.

This is a very high view of humanity, indeed.

And it is this understanding of humanity, which comes directly out of our Judeo-Christian heritage, which is the foundation of human rights. The events of the 16th century and following amount to a discovery of what faithful readers of scripture had been saying all along.

A. C. Grayling is telling the Modern Story, a story which is based and draws upon the Judeo-Christian worldview.  I hope that the new Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg will give more credit to the ultimate source of human rights as it strives to fulfill its worthy task “to explore the subject of human rights in order to enhance the publics understanding of human rights, and encourage reflection and dialogue.”

A Christian Worldview?

In Worldview on September 14, 2013 at 4:28 am

Secular freedom storyThe term “Christian worldview” is often used, but not always understood.

Too often, people think that if you simply believe the Bible, oppose abortion and avoid R-rated movies you have a Christian worldview.  OK, this is a bit of a caricature, but my point is, Christians often have a far too superficial understanding of worldview.  Even Nancy Pearcy’s book Total Truth, which is a book about worldview, begins with the story of Sarah, a Christian woman who works as a counsellor in a Planned Parenthood Clinic.  Pearcy explains this incongruity:

“Sarah’s story illustrates how even sincere believers may find themselves drawn into a secular worldview–while remaining orthodox in their theological beliefs” (32).

Although Sarah’s story may illustrate what Pearcy says it does, it does not help readers to understand the depth at which we hold worldviews–Christian, Secular or whatever.

Here’s an illustration that I think better illustrates how deeply worldviews are held and the conflict between a Christian and a “Secular” worldview.

I’m teaching Grade 9 Humanities this year so I started reading the textbook.  I think it’s a standard textbook for Social Studies across the province.   I didn’t get beyond the first page and I knew that this year I would be teaching a lot of worldview in my class.  Two sentences in the introduction to the first chapter entitled “The Early Modern Age” grabbed my attention.  They present a worldview that is completely contrary to a Biblical one.

Here’s the first sentence:

Sometime around the year 1500, Europe began to experience profound changes in its political, religious, social, economic and intellectual life.  As a result of these changes, European history began to enter a new era–the Early Modern Age.

This is the second:

All civilizations experience a kind of evolutionary change in their histories.

The significant word here is “evolutionary.”  The popular use of the term “evolutionary” connotes a positive change.  The Free Online Dictionary captures the developmental aspect of the word when it defines evolutionary as “A gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form.”

Together these sentences suggest that humanity is moving toward a better world and that the Early-Modern Age was a significant step in that direction.  Many people accept this without batting an eye.

It is true that there were a lot of changes going on in Europe around the year 1500.  It is also true that some things have improved over the last 500 years–transportation technology, for example, is much faster than it used to be.  But is it true to say that our civilization has improved just because some aspects of it has?  A survey of the last hundred years–with two World Wars, one Great Depression, the nuclear arms race, ecological disasters, new and deadly diseases–provides a lot of evidence to the contradict the idea that things are getting better.

So why does the textbook make this claim?

They make it because it is true; true within a certain story.

No claim (or “fact,” thing, event, person) means anything until we place it into a story.  This is why human beings always tell stories — we are always seeking meaning.

All stories, whether myths or movies, share some common elements.  They always have a protagonist, a person who strives for some goal.  This quest drives the story toward a meaningful end.  Stories also have conflict because there are always antagonists, that is, a person (or people or a force) that impedes the protagonist in the fulfillment of his or her purpose.

Two stories concern us here:  the so-called “secular” story and the Christian story.  In the secular story, the dominant myth in our culture, the protagonist, humanity, is on a long quest for autonomy (freedom from authority).   Some of the antagonists in the secular story are  kings and queens, God and the church, communism and socialism, and tradition and social conventions.  Many of these villains and monsters have been vanquished and only a few remain.

Because my grade 9 Social Studies textbook has placed the events following 1500 into this Secular story, it can claim that we have experienced evolutionary change in our history.

This is the dominant story in our culture, but it isn’t the only one.  The Christian story says that humanity will find fulfillment only in the presence of the loving God who made him.  Sin, the antagonist, thwarts humanity at every turn, but the hero of the story has come to find us and will bring us home (actually, bring home here).  This is the meaningful end of the Christian story.

When you consider civilization from this story, change has not been evolutionary–civilization has not improved because we have come no closer to dealing with our basic problem.  Freedom, according to this story, is a good thing, but Sin causes us to make GOOD things our objective instead of he who gave us the good things.  This inversion is, in essence, to make Freedom, into a god, a false god, an idol. Freedom is a good thing, but it is not the ultimate thing.

The secular story, or worldview, is foundational to my entire grade 9 social studies textbook and most of the other textbooks used in schools all over North America.  And it’s not just textbooks; it’s the worldview upon which the whole curriculum is built.  And it’s not just in schools, this story is reinforced by popular culture.  We are inundated with this story, and it is a powerful story.  When we consider the people who have fallen away from the church, I don’t doubt that many they left to seek autonomy–they wanted to do what they wanted to do and not have anyone or anything restrict their freedom.

One’s position on abortion is not a worldview–worldview runs much deeper–but your position on the issue of abortion is dictated by your worldview.  So will be your position on other issues that are, at their core, about human freedom.

I’m still using that textbook though, because discerning worldviews is one of the objectives of this and every other class taught at my school.  I worry for the Christian kids who aren’t in a school that is deliberate about exposing the competing stories in our culture.  And I also worry about the kids who are, because the secular story seems so true, because we are immersed in it.

I take more than a little comfort in the fact that none of the competing stories ring so true as the one where sin is the antagonist and the end is being reunited with the One who gave us every good thing–including Freedom.