Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Ivory Cubicle | Ordered Freedom


This article is the second in a three part series on freedom. Part 1 dealt with a limitless "existential" freedom. Part 2 dealt with a socially constructed freedom. Part 3 deals with the concept of Christian liberty as ordered liberty.

Freedom and morality are peculiar things. On first impression, it would seem that certain laws of morality would constrain a person’s freedom to be whoever they want to be. But as we’ve seen over the past two weeks, removing that constraint results in a loss of direction and purpose as the person begins to collapse inwards on himself. Realizing the moral emptiness inside of him, he seizes whatever he can to orient himself, ultimately elevating society and government to his God. Having excluded the possibility of an absolute moral order, he finds himself tossed about by the whims of social preference. His attempt to free himself of restraints has resulted in slavery to the masses.

Why could this be?

An Ordered Liberty

Conservative political theory contains a robust notion that everything is created for some purpose. This notion dates back to Aristotle, who argued that everything seeks some end. For Aristotle, the object becomes the best it can be by fulfilling this end. Since Christian conservatives believe that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” (as the Westminster Confession would say), we also believe that humans flourish most when we glorify and enjoy our Creator.

This all prompts the question “how do we do that?” Well, it just so happens that the Creator of the universe gave us a sort of guidebook that fleshes all that out (here's a link in case you need one). But one excerpt of particular significance pops into mind:
“They show that the work of the law is written on their [the Gentiles] hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:15-16)
According to the Apostle Paul, there are certain universal, absolute moral laws that are embedded in human nature. While it is true that this law has been completely fulfilled by Christ, so that it no longer condemns us, it is also true that living in accordance with these laws enables us to experience an abundant, flourishing Christian life. Christian liberty is an ordered liberty, it is pointed towards a certain end and contains certain guidelines on how to achieve that end.

Paul, Bondservant of Christ
The conservative picture of liberty flips the liberal notion of freedom completely on its head. The liberal begins by throwing off all moral restraint and ends in abject slavery to the will of the masses. The conservative begins by submitting himself, a “slave to Christ,” to the moral restraints decreed by his maker, and ends by finding that obedience to Christ makes him free to be who he was created to be.

Of course, if we conclude that humanity’s purpose is to be drawn to God, then the function of government would be to preserve a society which promotes this end. And in order for a government to promote the flourishing of its people (that “pursuit of happiness” hinted at in the Declaration of Independence), it must base its laws on the transcendent moral order which flows from a transcendent God.

So when it comes to Christian conservatives interacting in the political sphere, the most pressing question is not one of mere policymaking, but rather fundamental theory of government. Government ought to reflect universal truths, not the shifting values of society. It ought to affirm the universal humanity of the unborn child, not the convenience driven notion of “abortion-on-demand.” It ought to defend marriage as a reflection of the relationship of Christ and the church, and as the basis for the most fundamental unit of human community- the family.

Posted by Nick Barden.

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