Monday, October 13, 2008

Understanding Freedom and Equality

A fascinating forthcoming documentary by the Acton Institute attempts to shed light on a commonly misunderstood and often denied truth: secularism alone could not have shaped the concepts of freedom and equality as we now understand them. I do not know very much about this organization (yet), but the trailer appears to represent a greatly needed and powerful film.

The trailer, short clips, and more information can be found here.


Daniel said...

Hmm, looks interesting. I will be interested to see their conclusion on what other factors are considered along with secularism. It's been my understanding that much of Western, individualist thinking stems from Enlightenment "rationality" which was certainly at its core very much a secular movement-- a movement away from God and towards autonomy.

Good post, a breathe of fresh air about things that matter most at a time of overdone politics.

Aaron Beitler said...

Sarah, the topic of the video sounds outstanding. Thanks for posting.

Daniel, I can offer an argument on this.

Consider that true freedom requires the individual to be truly unfettered--psychologically. By this I mean the human needs to view herself as personally legitimized and valid.

Psychologically, then, free humans must be unfettered from questions about legitimacy. It is a question of psychological slavery. If human legitimacy is something that can be "sought after" or "earned", then the human becomes immediately fettered to her means of gaining legitimacy.

For true human freedom, legitimacy must be bestowed irrevocably and without human effort. This can only be achieved by God. Therefore theism is the only possible program for true freedom; secularism is insufficient.

Daniel said...


Interesting thoughts. What exactly are you responding to in my comment though? And are you using "human freedom" in the sense of the free will debate, or something else?

Aaron Beitler said...


What I'm focused on is what you're calling Enlightenment "individualist thinking" and "rationality".

Both of these concepts presuppose a certain definition of the human mind: one that sets apart the mind from other selves and from nature. Independent thinking and rationality presuppose, moreover, the laws of logic.

We take such definitions for granted, as westerners. But not everyone does. Take, for e.g., eastern monists. On their view, the human mind is at one with the universe. Thus all ground for the traditional laws of logic is lost. Obviously, their view places independent thinking in deep trouble.

The Enlightenment thinkers, on the other hand, celebrated a definition of the human self that was independent and embraced the laws of logic. Why? Solely because their culture endorsed Christian views on dignity, individuality, and creation.

You make an important point about the Enlightenment, but it's always good to remember the depths to which our society is indebted to Christianity.

God bless,


Daniel said...

Okay, modernism/Enlightenment thinking is good to an extent. But I wouldn't call it 100% Christian. And of course neither is postmodernism. Less so, I would argue and this blog has argued countless times.

Regarding Enlightenment thinkers you said, "Solely because their culture endorsed Christian views on dignity, individuality, and creation."

Dignity, individuality, and creation are good at their core and when understood properly. But I'm afraid the world especially since the Enlightenment has warped these things to an unhealthy understanding that is unChristian.

Dignity and individuality are good. We are created individually from God with unique souls and so on. We have dignity being fromed in the imago dei. But the Western culture, stemming from Enlightenment thinking, has perverted these things to a dangerous extreme. Nowadays we see "my faith", "my life" and so on. We need to regain the concept of "corporateness" and living in the faith and in life not JUST for ourselves, but in a corporate body. Postmodernism has taken a person's individuality to an extreme where "my faith" is all that matters, who cares if it is true or not?

Same with creation. Recognizing God's handiwork in creation is great! But (again, because of Enlightenment thinking) we worship the created order over the Creator. That's a dangerous misunderstanding of the nobility of recognizing and "having dominion over" God's creation.

If you haven't already, look into Francis Schaeffer's book "How Should We Then Live?" which I think is an excellent analysis of how Enlightenment/individual thinking has led to the problems we have today.