“To secure the blessings of freedom for ourselves and for our posterity”
(From the preamble of the United States Constitution)
Yesterday, after two worship services, a lunch engagement and a television interview, I took a short nap. After that, I read another chapter of F. A. Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty. I am reading Hayek because I am scheduled to speak at a conference for economists in a few weeks.
I am feeling a bit unqualified. Actually, I’m feeling very unqualified!
After reading for a while, I decided to watch a movie with Trish, called Crossing the Line. Then we watched another movie, called Jesus Camp.
Crossing the Line is about James Dresnok and Charles Robert Jenkins and two other American soldiers who deserted the United States Army and defected to North Korea. Two of these soldiers have since died. After living in North Korea for forty years, Jenkins immigrated to Japan. Dresnok still lives in Pyongyang and is therefore the main focus in the documentary.
It is a fascinating film. It explores why four Southern American men -- formally guardians of law, order and authority – betrayed their country and then created lives for themselves in that fiercely anti-American nation. It quickly becomes obvious that Dresnok has found comfort in the “teachings of the great leader,” which he incessantly quotes. He has also become secure in the dependable monthly rations he receives from the Korean government. He is now old. He has raised his family in a nation grateful for his usefulness. Although he is a man of limited intellect, he has learned how to effectively repeat the clichés of the political system he joined. As a result, he has become content in a culture in which he is not free.
Jesus Camp is about Christians.
It is a propaganda piece. It is produced from a leftist perspective and aims to discredit the political religious right. If you are a conservative Christian, it will probably make you angry. You will know that most of us don’t look like what that movie portrays. Nonetheless, the film will may also make you ashamed. It depicts spiritual practices that border on brainwashing. The Christian clichés and emotionalism that fills this work are children: little children. What we witness is not the teaching of the young but the deliberate emotional breakdown of children, followed by fear-based messages that the leaders scream into their mesmerized and captive audience.
I could not help but compare the two films: North Korea and Jesus Camp.
People in both shout slogans and praises about their great leader. People in both answer intelligent questions with thoughtless clichés. For the people in each, life is about remaining secure within an unquestioned universe in which intellectual, artistic and emotional growth is viewed as threats.
F. A. Hayek claims that civilization advances not only – or even principally – through the efforts of our celebrated thinkers and leaders, but through the trial and error of constant innovations made by millions of ordinary citizens because they want to survive and thrive. He says that whenever a society is overly planned, even by brilliant people who want the very best for those they serve – they create a culture in which those ordinary people stop innovating. What that happens, a culture stops developing.
To grow, individuals and nations must have liberty.
Therefore, receiving “the blessings of liberty” involves tolerating things most of us do not like. By definition, liberty is the ability to choose. Liberty is the utter absence of coercion, except that kind of coercion that forbids individuals to coerce others. It is toleration for the inevitable unequal outcomes experienced by those with different levels of talent and ability. It is the awareness that some people will chose to be immoral and ungodly. It accepts the fact that some will chose heresies, or worship other gods, or even worship no god at all. It allows people to eat the fruit of their own choices, which, over time, the quality of which becomes apparent to all.
If the Buddhists thrive scientifically, academically and materially while necromancers descend into squalor and insanity, no one may step in to save the necromancers from their destructive path. We may warn them. We may woo them. We cannot coerce them. We can only observe which group produces the better quality of life.
The idea of liberty is that common people, observing how a particular way of living affects those who embrace it, will chose for themselves which path leads to a healthy and fulfilling life.
The leaders of North Korea and Jesus Camp want to help people achieve a good life, as defined by them, by removing the alternatives. Their assumption is that the people they serve may not make the right choices, if allowed to choose.
And, indeed, they may not.
God discovered this in a garden long ago. We now live with the consequences. Nonetheless, God has chosen to honor human choice even as He pleads with us to make the right choice. Why? Because he wants us to grow and become fully adult human beings – persons. That is one of the greatest – perhaps the greatest – blessings “for ourselves and our posterity”.
I've told you about the movies I watched, but you might be wondering about the television interview I did. That was about a new website that helps people find someone with whom to have an affair. The motto of the site is “life is too short not to have an affair.”
It is making a lot of money.
The interviewer asked me, “What do you think of this site?”
“Evil,” I replied. “It is undermining families and helping people give in to a momentary temptation that might have walked through it and kept his home together.”
“Should it be outlawed” he asked?
“No,” I replied, “In a free country, people have a legal right to do such things.”
After the interview and the movies, I was thinking about how tempting it is sometimes to fantasize about living in a theocracy. We would not tolerate sinful behavior and would not experience painful consequences that come from addictions and heresy.
But which version of my faith would I want to control the state? Would the Baptists allow Charismatics to worship God in their own way? Would the Charismatics allow fundamentalists to teach that the spiritual gifts all ceased with the death of the apostles? Would the Roman Catholics allow Protestants to publish materials claiming that one must not pray to Mary?
We know the answer to these questions.
So, just as I do not desire to live under Sharia law; I do not wish to live under any version of a Christian theocracy.
I follow the teachings of orthodox Protestant Christianity and teach them to everyone who will listen. I try to convince others of the rightness of my path by all peaceful means. But I will not coerce. Furthermore, I will fight anyone who tries to coerce others, even if I agree more with those coercing than with those being coerced.
Why? Because coercion cannot secure “the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”
The way of North Korea and Jesus Camp creates neither real communists nor real Christians. It creates parodies of each. And morality is not produced by treating adults as though they were children, but by teaching children to become adults.
By the way, as I was searching for articles on Frederick Hayek, Google asked me if I wanted to see images of Fredrick Hayek or of Salma Hayek. And it showed some examples of each. After sweating for a moment, and aided by the advice of my wife, I chose old Frederick. Because I live in America, I had a choice. In North Korea, I would have been arrested for choosing Frederick. So I would have chosen Salma, who, as my wife pointed out, didn’t know a thing about economics! Also in North Korea, no one is watching a film about a North Korean soldier who defected to America.
The message of our faith is this:
“Behold I set before you both life and death, both blessing and cursing. Chose life that you and your children may live.”
The real Great Leader said that. A long, long time ago.
In America, we still have the ability to make that choice. Let’s keep it that way.