Themes and Thoughts
Food From Thought


But Is It Liberation?

We live in and age where rules, regulations, and thou-shalt-nots are despised. Belief in “discipline” – as a good thing – has never recovered from the rigorous debunking it received in the 1960s.

In that decade, when most of the values that had built the western world were summarily disposed of, it was believed that the route to real freedom was by way of stripping things away, jettisoning any restrictions on anything. “Liberal” theology was a product of those times; above all, it held that the authority of the Bible and the historic creeds and formulations of the Church, could be re-made, or removed, because “modern knowledge”, and modern society, demanded it.

The “modernist” idea was that all things have changed, “today” is totally different, and everything has to be changed accordingly (this is seen in many areas of life, such as modern art). Once the Bible had been seen to be largely a collection of mythology produced by a “pre-scientific” (credulous, irrational) age (and by a society of a kind now departed), and the creeds to be fossilised versions of Early Christian lore, then all of Christian belief was up for grabs.

One strong contender in the new thinking, for the source of Christian beliefs, was Reason – using the mind, we were told, which God gave us. Reason is of course good, we all use it all the time (particularly we need it the moment we start reading the Bible, or any book); it was the especial gift of God to humans, and divides us totally from animals.

But reason – like everything in creation – became flawed and sullied, and the heart of man became deceitful beyond measure. Basing our beliefs and actions upon reason alone, while of good intentions, can often mean, in actual practice, the importation of a non-Christian world-view and values (and this, sometimes, without our having realised it), and at worst, the adoption of whatever ism or mores is currently fashionable. Such values very often give the illusion of liberation. No longer need we be restricted by the old injunctions.

Like so much man-inspired “liberation”, it was an illusion. In fact, rules, laws, commandments and discipline ultimately protected people, saved them from themselves, gave them a means to become insulated from the very worst of the corrupt (what was called “fallen”) nature of man.

The monk who learned, by discipline, to control the sexual demands of the body, or the Evangelical who learned to live without alcohol, became really free, the ersatz version is modern man, who successfully campaigned for total sexual indulgence, and 24-hour drinking; he is the man in chains (as seen by the state of modern society).

When it comes to sex and drink, the errors of “liberation” can often be transparent – but it is not so with religious beliefs. Post-modern religious thought (in effect, believing what you want to believe, what you think ought to be the case) often doesn’t produce a very visible downside; but it takes you further and further from what previous generations would recognise as authentic Christianity, into the private world of “my religion”.

In reality – like with abstention and restraint – accepting what Christianity really teaches, despite it not seeming to be quite what I consider I want for myself, at this moment, actually leads to real, eternal, freedom, unlike “my religion” which so easily becomes a collection of purely-this-worldly values and concerns – the very thing Christians were told to avoid. When Jesus said “the truth shall set you free”, he meant the truth that he (alone) was to give, not a version picked up in the street.

Published in the Church of England Newspaper, 17 February 2006, p. 11.