December 26, 2007


Christianity and Liberty Defined (Steven Gillen, Religion & Liberty)

The key to reconciling Christianity and classical liberalism by means of reconciling their definitions of freedom can be found in the Christian understanding of human nature. Most Christians believe that, as the result of the Fall of Man, the bodies and souls, i.e., the natural and spiritual selves, of human beings were, to a great extent, divorced from and set against one another. From this dualistic perspective, it is logical to speak of two different kinds of freedom corresponding to the two types of human existence—natural freedom and spiritual freedom (akin to Hayek's “individual freedom” and “metaphysical freedom,” respectively).

Had the Fall not happened, there would be a dichotomy between neither spiritual freedom and natural freedom nor positive freedom and negative freedom. In a perfect world, negative freedom would still mean what Hayek maintained and would be the necessary condition for positive freedom. But positive freedom would mean the power of individuals to surrender their self-love for the love of God and the promotion of the welfare of others and would be the material realization of spiritual freedom in the Christian sense. Perfect freedom then would be complete spiritual freedom manifested in the material world in the form of positive freedom and permitted by the complete condition of negative freedom.

However, from a Christian perspective, the Fall did happen and the fully Christian society described by C. S. Lewis cannot exist outside a perfect world. Therefore, we must choose which definition of freedom, positive or negative, will underlie public policy in the City of Man, not the City of God. The issue most pertinent to this choice is not so much which definition of freedom, positive or negative, ought to be accepted as closer to the Christian ideal, but which definition in practice establishes the necessary though insufficient conditions for spiritual freedom that the state can uphold in the material world. Of the two definitions of freedom, only negative freedom establishes such practicable conditions since only freedom understood as the absence of coercion, the absence of fraud or force, can be proven by material standards and deterred or punished by material means.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 26, 2007 10:14 PM
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