Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Challenge of Freedom

On his state visit to the UK, President Obama said that this is a pivotal moment for the west, as we see change in North Africa and the Middle East. It is a challenge, he said. Now, it is a challenge, but may I say that it is every bit as much of a challenge to the Muslim world as it is to the west. There is much that is encouraging about the recent fall of dictatorships in North Africa. There is also much that gives cause for concern. The word 'Freedom' is much in the air, but one is concerned that it has not really been grasped.

Writing to the Galatian Christians, Paul tells them, "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free." This sums up what H.J. Taylor, in his book of the same name, calls "The challenge of freedom." The challenge is to use freedom to promote freedom. The temptation of course is to regard freedom as something that I have, and must guard jealously so that no-one else obtains it because that would be inconvenient. That is simply to replace one tyranny with another, which is a disaster.

Freedom must mean the freedom to speak one's mind or it means nothing. There are points of view that I find utterly repugnant - to give one example, I am disgusted by the shallow and bigoted policies of the British National Party. I am disgusted by militarism and by racism. But at the same time, I would not wish to live in a society where their rhetoric was a criminal offence. Freedom means the freedom to be wrong, the freedom to say things that are revolting and even stupid. Obviously there is a limit - and that is seeking to overthrow freedom, to destroy liberty in the name of liberty. Without free speech, there is no real freedom.

Freedom must mean the freedom of minorities, or it is simply the tyranny of the majority. It is to feared that this is what many in Egypt think freedom is, the freedom of a Muslim majority to persecute a Christian minority. Now, this also means that as Christians we must be prepared to allow for pluralism, and we must resist the temptation (for such it is) to restrict the liberties of others. The Gospel does not win any victories by the sword, and Christ's Kingdom is not of this world. So there must be religious freedom - not an enforced secularism, but a state that is not the instrument of any religious party.

The challenge of freedom is to use it for freedom. I am afraid that I do not see it being used for freedom in Egypt and Syria, and unless freedom is used for freedom, it will end in a new Tyranny even worse than the first.

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