A Vital Question
Just what is the origin of religious liberty? In a recent speech, Justice Alito observed, “When the state signs on to protect religious liberty, it necessarily signs on to a particular conception of what it means to be human.” His observation in today’s political and cultural environment is critical. Suppose religion, a way of thinking, and the associations it engenders, church, and other religious organizations are, from the government’s perspective, to be considered on the level of any other voluntary association. In that case, the state has no vested interest in or reason for granting a unique status to such. Religion is subjected to the same evaluation, whatever the state deems to be in the best interest of public safety, order, and health. That question will not be answered by the Bill of Rights declaration. Religious liberty will always be trumped by the prevailing philosophical mood of the culture.
The Path to A Vital Answer
Unfortunately, this question regarding the American concept of religious liberty can only be answered grammatically and historically. In other words, if you desire to know its origin, you can only find that answer by reading the documents that delineate the intellectual debates of the men who produced the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Furthermore, their definitions and conceptualizations must be understood regarding their contemporary meaning and thought form. They cannot be treated as “living” documents, that is, documents into which we flow our modern meaning and philosophical meanderings.
The Roots of the Vital Answer
Religious liberty is an inference of biblical Christianity, not a doctrine thereof. You will not find it as a category in the Systematic Theology book. It is a joint common grace complex conceptualization with numerous threads that emerged from a theological understanding not only of the Scripture but also the culling of the experience of previous experiments of nation building in western civilization.
A Grid of Logic to Test the Vital Answer
An interesting exercise for contemporary thinkers who desire to challenge the value of our historic religious liberty would be to use their grid in the best interest of public safety, order, and health to evaluate honestly. They will not because it would not yield their desired outcome. However, they would be like the Ph.D. student who submits a proposal for a qualitative dissertation with a critical flaw that guarantees arriving at the desired answer. By examining the impact of religious liberty in America, this grid would produce a citizenry that promotes honesty, integrity, safety, law and order, justice, and good physical and mental health.
The Consequence of A Wrong Methodology
Using this same grid impregnated with various atheistic and relativistic concepts of the contemporary political and academic elites will dislodge our historic religious liberty. Our institutions would be relegated to the level of irrelevancy at best.
A History Lesson and An Alarm
In the classic picture of the book of Judges, every man did what was right in his own eyes, which would become applicable to our society. However, as is already evidenced in political circles, this relativism would be one-sided. Only those who support the current and constantly changing cultural mantra would be accorded that freedom. For example, California proposes legislation for the state to declare an emergency and remove a child from the parents’ care who object to that child’s transitioning.
Judge Alito sounds an alarm! We had better listen.
The Challenge for Evangelicals
Having dual citizenship is in and of itself a challenge. Because our forefathers were so enlightened by the Lord God Almighty, we have enjoyed a heritage of freedom and prosperity that never matched in human history. The tyranny of the likes of Hitler, Lenin, and Stalin and their look-a-likes in other nations has not been our corporate experience. As a result, living with dual citizenship has relatively easy. However, the further our culture drifts from the historical understanding of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the more complex our challenge will be. This challenge will be at many junctures to determine how to manage our American citizenship by our heavenly citizenship, which takes precedence.
Welcome to our Strange New World, as Carl Trueman had dubbed it with his book by this title.