You can’t argue for freedom of religion in public life and then apply that freedom to only the religion you want. Nor can you have freedom of religion in public life to the exclusion of one particular religion. Nor can you have freedom of religion in public life to the exclusion of all religions, thus promoting non-faith as the only religion. If you are going to have freedom of religion in public life, then that must mean freedom for all faiths and none.
This is the premise of Os Guinness’s new book The Global Public Square. If we are going to have freedom of religion in America – part of the brilliance of what this country was founded on – then we must argue for everybody’s freedom. It can’t be freedom of Christianity in America. Nor can it be freedom of atheism in America. It has to be freedom of all religions and none.
I think the fact that it is a Christian making this argument is splendid. It is remarkable. It is something that is somewhat of a surprise, and something that makes me proud to be a Christian. It means that the Christian is arguing for more freedom than the secularist. The conservative is arguing for more freedom than the liberal.
“We should all stand for the rights of those with whom we disagree who wish to persuade us – liberals should fight for the rights of fundamentalists, Christians for the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists, and Muslims for the rights of atheists. All lovers of freedom should stand together against every insidious attempt to use the law to outlaw whatever is considered blasphemy, defamation or apostasy. It is time to rise up and challenge the politically correct. Who are the free thinkers now? Truly free people know what it means to persuade and to be open to persuasion.” (Guinness, pg. 111)
To put this another way: if I want to be free to argue that I am right, I need to do that in such a way as to be willing to be proven wrong. If you want to persuade me to become a Mormon, go right ahead, as long as you respect my freedom to not be one, and, in similar light, that you are open to being talked out of your Mormonism. Then, and only then, can we have a relationship. Otherwise, we will just bloody each other.
This is the brilliance of Os’s book: It puts this freedom of religion (or what he calls: “soul freedom”) on a global level where in some ways it is easier to understand, but it has incredibly practical implications in our daily life as Christians in an increasingly pluralistic society. Standing for and respecting soul freedom for all is what will allow us to have relationships in the marketplace.
But if you want to persuade, you must be open to being persuaded. To bash everyone as wrong who does not agree with you is no way for Christians to behave. The more we believe the truth, the less we have to defend it. It can stand quite well on its own, thank you.
At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
Paul replied, “Short time or long-I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:24-29)
Note: Os Guinness will be our guest on BlogTalkRadio Tuesday, April 8.
Mark your calendar!