Freedom Under Threat: Why Australia Is At A ‘Pivotal Moment’

Australia is at a ‘pivotal moment’ of its history. The freedoms we’ve taken for granted are eroding, and their very future is uncertain.

That’s the judgment of veteran Christian social commentator Os Guinness, who spoke at a recent event hosted by Moore College’s Centre for Christian Living, in partnership with TGCA and Freedom For Faith.

While Guinness didn’t go into detail about the particular challenges Australia faces, he did speak about the general challenges facing societies like ours, in sustaining our fragile political and religious freedoms.

Here are 4 points that caught my attention:

1. Sustaining Freedom Is Challenging

Guinness made the point that: ‘Winning freedom is easy. Ordering freedom is harder. [But] the real challenge is sustaining it.’

Why?

Our past victories with regard to freedom are no guarantee of future performance. Freedom can’t be taken for granted: it must be sustained.

‘Because Freedom never ever lasts forever. And sustaining freedom is our challenge. Is Australia as free as it used to be? Clearly in many areas, no.’ As with the stock market, our past victories with regard to freedom are no guarantee of future performance. Freedom can’t be taken for granted: it must be sustained. This is because it is always under threat.

2. Freedom is Always Under Threat

Guinness outlined the general threats to freedom, as described by classical Graeco-Roman thinkers. There’s much common grace wisdom we can tap into here, he said, if only we take the time.  These thinkers described three main enemies to a nation’s freedom:

  1. External enemies. A nation’s external enemies can remove its freedoms. This has been repeated countless times over history (indeed, I was born in a Soviet occupied country that had lost its freedom).
  2. The ‘Corruption of customs’. Every nation has its own constitution. If it’s good, the nation does well. But the best constitutions ‘rest in a bedding of customs: traditions, morays, cultural standards’. And if you corrupt those, even the best system of laws and constitutions in the world will not hold things together.
    Historically speaking, nations corrupt their customs when they’re at the pinnacle of power, or the height of prosperity Why? Because people grow complacent. And according to Guinness, there’s a lot of complacency in Australia today, because life is relatively easy.
  3. Time. ‘Everything falls in time. Historians say that if you take the history of civilisation – that last 10,000 years or so – and pack it into an hour, free societies only appear in the last 5 mins.’

Free societies like ours are rare and fleeting. But modern westerners are blind to the danger

Free societies like ours are rare and fleeting. But modern westerners are blind to the danger posed by the decay of time. As Guiness put it:

The speed of change today—the injuries of time—are happening faster than ever, yet somehow we believe that everything will be the same forever.

3. So How Can We Sustain Freedom?

If these are the dangers posed to freedom, then how can we hope to sustain it?

Again, it involves having a culture that respects and loves freedom:

The law provides the structure to freedom, but you need the spirit of freedom—the ‘habits of the heart’. This has to be passed down from parents to their children, from teachers to their students, so that it’s second nature. If the spirit of freedom goes, you’re sunk.

More particularly, the best proposal for sustaining freedom is what Guinness calls the ‘Golden Triangle of freedom’. He takes this from the American Founders, who stressed three things:

Freedom requires virtue. Virtue requires faith of some sort. Faith of any sort requires freedom. Each of those ‘legs’ were stressed by the American founders, and each of those three has been abandoned by America today. And American freedom is not sustainable. [1]

Having critiqued America, Guinnness then raised the same question of Australia:

And how do Australians hope that they’re going to sustain freedom? Do you think you can undercut the Christian roots of so much in Australia, and the flowers will live forever? Yours is increasingly a ‘cut-flower- civilisation. Cut flowers don’t last.

Indeed. With the exit of the Christian worldview from many of our institutions (including educational institutions), it’s increasingly being replaced by secular ideologies (like the Identity Politics inspired by post-modernism). As a result, many secular elites are now openly questioning the underlying need—let alone rationale—for basic western freedoms.

With the exit of the Christian worldview from many of our institutions, many secular elites are now openly questioning the underlying need—let alone rationale—for basic western freedoms.

In the face of such challenges, Guinness says Christians must speak up:

We who care for justice and care for freedom and care for dignity need to explore these things to understand them, so that when we go out into the public square, we can argue for things that are faithful to the Scriptures but also profoundly important for human society…And we’re agents of that in God’s world.

4. Christianity is the Only Worldview Providing Solid Ground For Human Freedom

Guinness didn’t hold back from crediting Christianity with being the key contributor to the freedoms so many westerners take for granted.

No other faith, religion, philosophy [or] worldview has a grounding for freedom…There isn’t a single serious Atheist philosopher who can give you the grounds for freedom. Naturalistic science simply can’t. Sam Harris [argues] that freedom is a fiction.

He continues:

[But in Scripture], a sovereign God has made significant humans in his image. And we are the guardians for some of these things, and this is an hour for courage and confidence and moving out, for the Lord’s sake, but also for our neighbour’s.

All in all, it was a stimulating talk about a  challenge facing our society (not to mention our churches), from a respected and well thought out commentator. It does seem we’re at a crossroads or  ‘pivotal moment’ when it comes to freedom, where decisions made in the next few years may determine the future of our freedoms for a long time to come.


Photo: Joey Banks, unsplash.com

[1] One could raise the question of societies like China, which are not free, yet where Christianity seems to be growing. And yet, as a counterexample, Christianity was oppressed and compromised under Soviet communism. I would argue that all things being equal, Churches and Christians do better in free societies than closed ones.

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