28 December 2008

Proclaim “Welfare!” and throw liberty to the winds

The whole development of modern society has tended mightily toward the limitation of the realm of freedom for the individual man. The tendency is most clearly seen in socialism; a socialistic state would mean the reduction to a minimum of the sphere of individual choice. Labor and recreation, under a socialistic government, would both be prescribed, and individual liberty would be gone. But the same tendency exhibits itself to-day even in those communities where the name of socialism is most abhorred. When once the majority has determined that a certain regime is beneficial, that regime without further hesitation is forced ruthlessly upon the individual man. It never seems to occur to modern legislatures that although “welfare” is good, forced welfare may be bad. In other words, utilitarianism is being carried out to its logical conclusions; in the interests of physical well-being the great principles of liberty are being thrown ruthlessly to the winds. – J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1923), 11.


It’s an interesting question how Machen comes to discuss liberty in a book written to defend orthodox Christian theology against the claims of theological liberalism. But the subject does arise organically. What’s more interesting to me, however, is to read a Christian (a fundamentalist, in the original sense of the term) express such concern for liberty. Let’s face it: Christians have not for a long time been known as defenders of liberty.

Some of that is due to bad press, put out by people for whom "liberty" means what most of us prefer to call "libertinism". But, in fact, some Christians (of both Left and Right) do have their own version of welfare, under which they’d like to put everyone.

Of course, it’s difficult to talk liberty these days. Most people who use the term now-days seem to refer only to sexual liberty. In all other matters, they seem to prefer “welfare”.

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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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