A lot of people believe that fundamentalist Christianity is culturally narrow and fails to recognize that various cultures have different perspectives on reality. They think it endangers civic freedom and stifles individual creativity and growth. Freedom is the ability to create your own meaning and purpose, they proclaim! It’s no mystery why this is so. It’s engrained in the very fabric of Americans. Our very own Supreme Court protects and preserves this feeling when they preach, “The heart of liberty is to define one’s own concept of existence.” However, all of these things are based off misconceptions of the nature of truth, community, Christianity, and liberty.
Truth is unavoidable. You can’t continue to “explain things away” or “see through” things forever. This is the broad and slippery slope of relativity.
Every form of community, the Church and “liberal democracy” alike, is based on a shared set of beliefs. A totally “inclusive” community is therefore an illusion. All that western society has ever known is shared beliefs on rights, reasons, justice, and the meaning of human life. This is not confined to the church alone. Let me give an illustration concerning homosexuality, since that seems to be such a deal breaker for people. What if the president of a gay and lesbian rights group announced that he had a religious conversion and he now thinks homosexuality is a sin? What would happen? He’d be kicked out of the group and asked to never come back. Likewise, if a minister proclaims that his son is gay and he thinks that he has the right to marry his partner what would happen? He’d be removed from his duties. Now, why is it that the first group has a reputation for tolerance and inclusion and the second of exclusion and intolerance? You see, every community is based on common beliefs and boundaries. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is confined to the church of God alone.
Christianity has been much more adaptive to diverse cultures than has secularism, pluralism, or “multiculturalism”. If Christianity is so intolerant of diversity and it zaps you of personal expression, then why has it spread throughout the whole world? Why are there converts of every tribe, nation, and tongue? Why is it centered in the southern and eastern hemispheres, when it started in Jerusalem? Why do some worship in jeans and others in suits? Some with shoes, others bare-footed? Why are there booming churches in the heart of NYC, the Mecca of pluralistic, urban culture? Why have all other major world religions, for the most part, stayed confined to the areas where they have started – Islam – Middle East. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism – same demographics they started with? Yup. Why has Christianity, more than any other major religion, been able to infiltrate so many radically different cultures and peoples? Doesn’t sound like intolerant conformity to me. Doesn’t sound like lack of personal expression to me. The truth is that Christianity has taken more culturally diverse forms than other faiths by far. God has made us all with various gifts, abilities, likes and dislikes and we get to express them within a community. What a blessing. The problem comes when we want to transform one of his good gifts into “personal identity” which goes against his holy, moral law.
With all that being said, the new identity “in Christ” that the believer attains at salvation is true freedom. It’s no longer ME-focused or ME-oriented. The believer is transformed, and the focus is placed on Christ and others. The Christian is happy to die to themselves, their personal preferences, and motivations for the sake of others. Christ produces this attitude in them.
Its been claimed that Christianity is a restriction of ultimate freedom because it limits our freedom to choose our own personal beliefs and practices, which makes us “less-human?” So freedom, as defined here, is a lack of confinement or constraint. But, freedom cannot be defined as such, in negative terms. Let me give an illustration that exposes the error of this definition. I play basketball. If I want to get better and nurture this gift God has given me I have to practice, practice, practice. This kind of discipline and limitation allows talent to run riot. What have I done? I have willingly given up my freedom to engage in other things in order to accomplish a richer kind of freedom. Freedom, therefore, is not an absence of restraint and confinement, but its finding the right ones that fit our abilities and cause us to grow towards deeper joy and fulfillment; they are liberating restrictions. And, they help us grow intellectually, vocationally, and physically as well. That is what Christianity is all about! Its not about feeling “guilty,” which is a far cry from true spirit-filled conviction. Conviction is an acknowledgement of wrong committed and an attitude of transformation and change. Guilt is self-pity and a mockery to grace.
Love is the most liberating freedom-loss of all. The “freedoms” of love come at great cost and great loss. Personal autonomy is given up when love is pursued. There is no greater example of this than Jesus Christ. God adjusts to us! No way! Yes, because he loves us. It’s this love that motivates the believer to respond. That is why Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “The love of Christ CONSTRAINS us.” This is true freedom. True Identity. I’ll take it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.