Posted: December 9, 2008 by joelmartin in Politics, Social Issues, Theology
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     Continuing my summary of A Theological Interpretation of American History, I turn to what Prof. Singer said about the Puritan conception of liberty. Singer says that to the Puritans, “Liberty was not a natural right, but a God-given right and privilege to be zealously guarded from despots, to be sure, but also subject to precise biblically-defined limits.” 

     Singer quotes John Winthrop on the two types of liberty that Winthrop contrasted with each other. The first type of liberty ‘is common to man with beasts and other creatures. But this…is liberty to evil as well as to good. This liberty is incompatible and inconsistent with authority an cannot endure the least restraint of the most just authority. The exercise and maintaining this liberty makes men grow more evil and in time to be worse than brute beasts.”

     Winthrop contrasts this first kind of liberty with what he calls civil or federal liberty. It is “a liberty to that only which is good, and just, and honest.” Winthrop warns: “If you stand for your natural corrupt liberties and will to do what is good in your own eyes you will not endure the least weight of authority, but will murmur and oppose, and be always striving to shake off that yoke; but if you will be satisfied to enjoy the civil and lawful liberties such as Christ allows you, then will you quietly and cheerfully submit unto that authority which is set over you, in all administration of it, for your good.”

     It should be clear from these few quotes that what “liberty” meant to the colonial era was something entirely different from what the word means today, which seems to be unbridled license to commit any heinous sin. From killing babies to adultery it’s all just fine under our modern conception of liberty. Does most of the modern conservative movement have much to say on this subject? I don’t think so.

  1. Good insights Joel. Liberty must be defined in such a way that it prohibits certain so-called “liberties” that actually cause harm.

  2. joelmartin says:

    Which I think is impossible in our modern and pluralist democracy. Barring a new evangelization of massive proportions I think we are restricted to theorizing, but not being able to implement these theories until our new Dark Age ends.

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