We continue our look at the points made by Glenn Tinder in his book Liberty: Rethinking an Imperiled Ideal. This time we start with Chapter 1 but we are not sure if we will be able to address all the information contained in that chapter in one post.
#1. Ancient Athens stands out not only because philosophy and literature flourished there, but also because it was a free society. (pg 1)
But we must ask, how free was Athens when we know that Socrates was tried and convicted there? The author is remiss as he does not define what he means by a free society for ancient Athens.
If he means that people could think as they wish and had the right of free speech, then that is a very restricted freedom. Unless you read the end of the chapter first, you may be confused by his use of the word liberty as he says following the above quote the words:
‘…but none were more compelling than the law, which was to play so vital a role in the development of liberty in later ages.’ (pg. 1)
If you are thinking that liberty meant total freedom, that was not what Mr. tinder had in mind nor was it the way ancient Athens was. Ancient Athens had rules and laws governing its citizens’ behavior just like any other city.
The problem in understanding what Mr. Tinder is actually referring to comes in because he does not define the words ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ till the end of the chapter. This strategy then allows for confusion to enter into the minds of his readers and leads to to misunderstand what Mr. Tinder is talking about.
Another problem comes in when Mr. Tinder thinks that the law developed ‘liberty’ from the ancient Greek period on up through the Middle Ages when in reality, ‘liberty’ had already been defined and developed long before the ancient Greeks came onto the earthly scene.
Liberty was not a foreign concept held back from ancient societies waiting until the Greeks came into existence and invented it. As we read history, especially biblical history we see that the concept of liberty existed long before and was only absent if the rulers of a given society deprived their people of its benevolence.
#2. it can be argued with great plausibility that liberty leads inevitably toward a degraded society…Not only will culture decline. So will justice. (pg. 2)
While in theory this may be so, it is not liberty itself that is to blame. It is how liberty is used and abused that allows for a society and justice to degrade. In other words, liberty lends and protects a good and just society if the laws and rules of th eland are just and enforced.
If a nation stops enforcing or replaces good laws with bad ones or lack of enforcement then yes society will degrade but it was not liberty that is at fault. The fault lies with the people who exchanged their liberty for more perverse ways of living and guiding a society.
The blame lies with the people, something Mr. Tinder does not acknowledge but the Bible does in Romans 3:12. Liberty may be the excuse or justification but it is the decision making of the people, whether it be the leaders or the main population who demand that a less morally conscious society is better than the moral alternative.
Liberty then is a victim of free choice as it allows for people to decide for themselves which way they want to live. God does this as well but he is not the victim, the people who choose badly are because God does not give up ultimate control like liberty does to those who decide to reject his ways.
God, his morality and holiness still have the final say which we will get to later.
#3. Why then, should liberty be so highly esteemed? Is guarding liberty really the chief task before us? These questions have no obvious answer. (pg. 3)
Mr. Tinder is wrong in that there is no obvious answer to either question. The Bible provides us with the answer to both. But first we need to answer Mr. Tinder’s first question.
Liberty is highly esteemed because people want to have control over their own lives and not be subject to anyone else. They want to be in charge thus liberty represents a sense of freedom for them, a freedom to do what they want, work where they want, spend where they want and so on. They want to make their own decisions.
Liberty is prized because people think it grants them unlimited rights to make their own rules. The answer to the second question is ‘no’. Guarding liberty is not the chief task set before us. The chief task that we are given, if people accept it, is to be holy as God is holy. We are to live by God’s rules and we do not need liberty to do that.
We can live by God’s ways no matter what form of government rules over the land. Paul reminds of this fact when he writes
Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
Gal 5:23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law
Living God’s way means that we are not a threat to those who rule over us and Jesus proved that by his life on earth. We can have liberty even when the most oppressive government rules over us because believers have been given the fruits of the spirit. We only need to freely choose this way of living and no government can rob us of the freedom to choose.
We just need to be ready to pay the cost that comes with that choice. Free choice is liberty as we get to choose how we shall live. We do not have to guard it, but exercise it.
#4. How do we approach an inquiry into the grounds of liberty? Where do we look for our standard of truth? (pg. 3)
Mr. Tinder ends that section with those questions yet in the following section he does not really provide an answer again. He does talk about using the different philosophies to help ‘us understand liberty and assess its values’ but that means going to fallible, sinful and false teaching to try and grasp a concept that has divine origins. That just won’t work. One cannot find the answers to those questions by going to the very people who do not understand or know the answers.
Mr. Tinder goes on to say:
this is an issue that has to be decided by will as well as reason. The issue is that of reason versus faith. (pg. 4)
But the problem with this idea is that it assumes that reason does not exist with faith or is a part of it. It takes a lot of reason to come to a position of faith. If the believer wants an answer to this questions they do not have far to look.
We approach the inquiry by seeking God’s help and coming to the topic from his perspective. Since liberty has been created and defined by God then he is the only one who is able to guide us to the correct ideas about liberty.
Then, to answer the second question, we look to the Bible and God to receive our standard of truth. No human or philosophical system has the truth without God and many of those who include God do so in part thus they do not have the complete truth and cannot produce the standard Mr. Tinder seeks.
Each philosophical system will only produce a subjective standard, one that will be modified by those to come after the originators of those philosophical ideas designed to provide truth. You cannot have truth if the standard is flexible and subject to correction or alteration. This is why science fails as a producer of the truth. its conclusions and theories are very flexible and subject to alteration every time something that sounds better comes along.
You cannot claim to have the truth if the content is not unchangeable. People may say their standards are unchangeable but that doesn’t make it so. To make approaches of inquiry and standards of truth, you must first and only start with the truth. Then you if you have somewhere adopted something that is false, then you must be ready to change to the truth when it comes along.
Not everything that comes along will be the truth even though the proponents proclaim that it is. Truth is not something that is agreed upon by all. It stands alone and all people will recognize it as the truth. Nor does the truth need a majority of support or opinions to be the truth. The truth is the truth no matter how many or few agree with and accept it.
Jesus told us we shall know the truth, and those words tell us that the truth already exists and does not need help from blind and lost individuals in constructing it. We find that truth only with the help of the Holy Spirit for God is truth, Jesus is truth and the Holy Spirit is truth thus they are the only ones who can construct the standard of truth or lead people in approaching that subject.
You remove them from the discussion then you remove truth from the discussion and end up with something that is nowhere near the truth and no standard is constructed. What is built are what people desire to be the truth.
We will stop part 2 here and continue the discussion of Mr. Tinder’s book in part 3.