LIBERTY vs. LICENSE
Vital Questions Stimulated by the Events of 2012
By Bruce Atkinson PhD
Special to Virtueonline
January 16, 2013
What should be our limits to "liberty and the pursuit of happiness"? As Christians, how should we handle (internally and externally) the sinful behavior we can witness constantly in our culture-- in movies, television, internet, and video games? Research has shown a connection between watching media violence and young people acting out in violence. We know that the media moguls just want to attract more viewers and make more money. They won't stop unless they are forced to stop by law or unprofitability. Fortunately, our government has not decayed to the point where we legally allow murder, terrorism, and child sexual abuse. These crimes are still prosecuted. But media violence, pornography in general, obscene language, and sexual immorality are all allowed, even celebrated. Obscenity laws were once prosecuted and enforced. Sexual immorality was once a cause for shame and social isolation in our society. Not anymore.
Given the extreme evil we have recently experienced in our nation (violence in Connecticut, child pornography arrests, etc.) and other signs of decadence, how should Christians respond? We cannot turn back the clock. But I must ask: What inhibits Christians from becoming activists for good? Answer: 1) fear of persecution from the ubiquitous PC police, and 2) pollyanna naiveté and soft sentimentalism (and theological Pelagianism) that causes the public to believe that people are not all that bad. We must pray for courage and God's wisdom to conquer these inhibitions to our taking a strong stand.
We so easily forget how deep into sin humans really are. Perhaps God allows these horrible events to help us remember. Humans were originally created in God's image, but since the Fall, the human heart has been self-centered and susceptible to evil spiritual forces. Without God, we are virtually incapable of fully wanting what God wants; we ALL ARE SINNERS (Romans 3:10-12, 23). Deep down, people do NOT want to have a real God to whom they are accountable, rather, they want to be a god. So their desires of the flesh direct their choices; violence and sex sells.
In general, the public is made up of people who want their own behavior habits to be socially affirmed and accepted (e.g., in early movies, everyone smoked cigarettes); people like seeing such behavior in movies so they can feel it is OK for them, or so that they don't feel so guilty when they do it. The media functions to desensitize our consciences. Increasingly, we see bad language, sexuality, and violence and so we should not be surprised at the STD and porn epidemics, the sudden increase in homosexual behavior among youth, nor wonder why some young people go crazy and kill as many innocent victims as they can before kill themselves. The general media's promotion of violence and immoral sex (not to mention crude language and taking the Lord's name in vain) makes these behaviors increasingly acceptable. I call it "cultural entropy"-the tendency of everything in nature to decay when left to itself.
I have previously shared professor Budziszewski's famous quote (see article, "Stages of Moral Regression" in VOL archives) which reminds us of the "frog in the pot" phenomena where dangerous cultural trends start slow and small, gradually and insidiously sneaking up on us unaware, until it is virtually too late to retreat from the danger. Budzisewski writes: "Things are getting worse very quickly now. The list of what we are required to approve is growing ever longer. Consider just the domain of sexual practice. First we were to approve sex before marriage, then without marriage, now against marriage. First with one, then with a series, now with a crowd. First with the other sex, then with the same. First between adults, then between children, then between adults and children. The last item has not been added yet, but will be soon: you can tell from the change in language, just as you can tell the approach of winter from the change in the color of leaves. As any sin passes through its stages from temptation, to toleration, to approval, its name is first euphemized, then avoided, then forgotten. A colleague tells me that some of his fellow legal scholars call child molestation 'intergenerational intimacy': that's euphemism. A good-hearted editor tried to talk me out of using the term 'sodomy': that's avoidance. My students don't know the word 'fornication' at all: that's forgetfulness." (From J. Budziszewski, "The Revenge of Conscience," First Things, June/July, 1998, pp. 21-27).
An Associated Press article on December 21, 2012 told of a woman who "ran afoul of police when she gave her neighbors an unusual holiday greeting, hanging Christmas lights in the shape of a middle finger." When the police threatened to arrest her if she did not take it down, she got the ACLU to help her sue the city. The judge ruled in her favor on the basis of freedom of speech. I had to laugh when I read this story, but then I sobered up when I thought about what it meant about our culture.
On his website, blogger Philip Hodges responded: "It seems the only purpose of the First Amendment anymore is to allow nasty people to continue being nasty with impunity. I find it odd that a nativity scene in a public place could be cited for blurring the so called "separation between church and state," but obscenities of every kind have the full protection of the law. It raises the question: What was the original purpose of the First Amendment? And more importantly, what is its purpose now? John Adams said that the Constitution was meant for a moral people, and it was fit to govern none else. And this is true. In a land where common sense and common decency aren't common at all, people who love freedom and liberty are forced to make a very difficult choice: Do we forego our own rights in order to rein in the license and corruption of our neighbors? Or do we put up with the pervasive depravity and lowness of our culture in order to secure for ourselves a bare modicum of self-governance? It's a difficult choice. In his farewell speech to Congress, Ron Paul pointed out the only real solution to this dilemma: "Changing the government is secondary to promoting a virtuous society." Why? Because liberty cannot work without virtue. It becomes corrupted by license . It even becomes license over time. And that is what it has become in our culture. Without a moral people, freedom breaks down. Gun control wouldn't even be on the table in a virtuous society. We spend so much time trying to get the right people elected . But a perfect government cannot redeem a selfish, immoral people. But at Christmas, if at no other time, let's remember who can." Amen.
Liberty and License: Although these words may be defined differently, they are closely related. If you take freedom and liberty to their natural human extremes you get license---which is lawlessness, libertinism, and the spirit of antichrist. We should not be surprised at this current increase in lawlessness. Jesus, Paul, and Peter all predicted it (Matt 24:12, Luke 17:26 referring to Gen 6:13, 2 Tim 3:13, and most of 2nd Peter).
Human nature, being entirely susceptible to sin, cannot handle much liberty because we always step across the line into license. That is why, in order for social order to exist, we value "liberty circumscribed by law." Or as the song "America the Beautiful" puts it (Katherine Bates, 1895), "America. America. God mend thine every flaw. Confirm thy soul with self-control, thy liberty with law."
Both Jesus and Paul proclaimed the truth that human beings are enslaved to sin. That means we are not truly free. Only with the inner motivation-based transformation that Christ brings (through faith) can we be free to truly desire God's will and thus to avoid sin. The New Testament scripture speaks of this freedom in Christ--- that is, when all human nature is changed in the ultimate Kingdom, there will be no need for law, for in our perfect freedom, we will only want to do good. Our "hearts" will be right and complete liberty will be appropriate. But not until then. Law and its enforcement still have an important function.
In conclusion, there are a few questions that we must continue to grapple with: Where exactly are we to draw the line in an increasingly secular culture? Where do politics and the law come in? And what can we personally do to change our culture for Christ? Here may be a start: We can pray. We can take an honest and humble look within ourselves, repenting, and asking God for the courage and wisdom to overcome our passivity and fear-based inhibitions. We must keep protesting, using all the venues available. And beyond votes and working in the political system, our remaining option as Christians is to work for the unprofitability of evil schemes. We must boycott. We must be seen as a force for losing or gaining profits. This strategy may have as much power as votes in this capitalistic society.
Finally, and most importantly, we can support efforts to evangelize our nation and personally share our faith with others. And we can make 2nd Chronicles 7:14 our belated New Year's resolution.
Dr. Atkinson is a psychologist and Christian counselor with degrees in both theology and clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary
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