Regarding the nature of love, C.S. Lewis said:
“In order for love to be genuine, the agent has to have the ability to choose not to love. Unless there is freedom of one’s will to either love someone or hate them, it isn’t really love.”
It seems strange to say about one as great as Lewis, but Pastor John Fraiser points out some very real problems with this argument. That is why I propose the following instead:
“Only freely given love is genuine love. Love that is forced is not free, and therefore not genuine love. In that case, we might as well be robots.”
Luke 15 (“the prodigal son”) shows us how God is with us. This not only has theological but political implications.
Only in the West have persons had so much freedom to live as they see fit. This is due to the heritage of Christian tolerance (Nietszche, Islam [?]: “weakness”) and its influence in our society: the idea that although we may disagree with someone, we want to respect and dignify them as valuable persons, created in the image of God, who have the “right to be wrong” (this unique form of “civil righteousness”, present only in societies inhabited by large numbers of Christians, derives from this core aspect of true righteousness, the righteousness of God, namely: if you love something you let it be free. This is the reason why free consent is considered to be at the heart of marriage in the West*). Hell, a true place to be sure, is also in the Christian mind, the “un-life” that persons freely choose for themselves. There is no one in hell who God has not fully loved in Jesus Christ. It is we, not he, who desire to relegate to non-existence the relationships we have been given with others, most notably with God himself. So here we note that at the core of the Bible is the idea of true freedom – from sin, death, and the devil – where we may (without being forced against our willing) through Jesus Christ, live as forgiven people of God – in accordance with the way God intended us to live in joy, that is, in love for the other, which means nothing other than genuine and self-sacrificial concern for the well-being of their person “body and soul”.
Give me this liberty or give me death. This is not about Christian nation-building**
Now, it is simply not responsible for those holding political power to always allow for this “civil righteousness”-“right to be wrong” stuff of course. While all may agree that in general (20th century Germany, Russia, Cambodia, etc. excepted, quite a large amount of exceptions, I note) laws against murder and theft are a good thing, due to the sinfulness of sin, it may be infinitely better and wiser to not outlaw, but rather verbally discourage, in some cases make more difficult, and certainly not subsidize other behaviors which may not be best for the health of the individual and society (gambling, pornography, adultery and consistently practiced [lifelong] deliberate childlessness (!) for instance).
Nevertheless, the level of personal freedom persons in the West have experienced is immense, and unarguably, unprecedented in human history. And I note that you will not find the nuanced and expansive view of rights that allows for this, which in Western societies (especially America) is part and parcel with respect for the freedom of the individual conscience – in any other society, where non-biblical religious ideas (polytheistic [hoi polloi], pantheistic [elites], etc.) are much more closely intertwined with the political. Hence, you will, for example, find that the politically active classes in no other society – not even pagan Greece and Rome – ever officially sanctioned and actively promoted things like gay marriage – hoping to elevate same-sex relationships to the same status as heterosexual ones – although throughout history there have been “variations on a common theme” (namely man-woman themes) when it comes to marriage. Quite frankly, only in a society buffered by so much biblical tolerance and patience (where the “habits of the heart” formed by the non-Christian’s imitation of the Christian [Christians could never “tolerate” *sanctioned* gay marriage] is what I am speaking of) could a thing like “gay marriage” occur (go read Luke 15 to see the attitude of the waiting, prodigal Father Jesus speaks of).
The key point here is that faithful Christians believe that both mortal (what we call “natural”) life and immortal life is rooted in the concept of gift, or grace – and that this can be freely rejected. In short, it is not so much our “duty to believe”, but our privilege to be “woken up” and recognize and receive all God does for all men – for He does not show partiality – through our neighbor (as we are called to serve them), starting of course with the Neighbor, the Crucified One whose Life creates and restores all life. This means, for example, that it is not so much that our own life is a gift to us (and hence suicide is wrong, per Aquinas), but the lives that are given to us are a gift to us (and hence suicide is wrong: you are a gift to the other).
This is why deliberate lifelong childlessness, for example, in regards to man-woman relationships (which require fidelity as well) is simple absurdity. It is to cut off the umbilical chord of life itself, not to mention Life. Speaking of society as a whole, one cannot pursue “happiness” (however ultimately lacking a Christless happiness would be) in liberty (however ultimate lacking a Christless liberty would be) without life. Many today look at the pain of life and see death as a “curative slumber”, something which should be courageously embraced because it brings freedom (“to be free is to die”) and I suppose, happiness. This makes me both sad and scared.
This is my Christian perspective. I am sure those of other religions – including pagan philosophers – would have their own coherent way of dealing with these realities. At the same time, I don’t think you are going to get societies with nearly as much earthly freedom in these schemes (unless you are rich and powerful and can do as you please to a greater extent).
*-We can be clear: Western culture’s historic shift away from arranged marriages* to marriages based on mutual choice is a good thing. It is a Christian idea – we do not choose God but He does allow us to leave – to disown Him. This is the reason why free consent*** is now considered to be at the heart of marriage in the West. I think that “hard” arranged marriages would be bad. On the other hand, very “soft” ones, where the person getting married has some choice? Not bad at all! Good idea!
**- Christians should not be eager to create “Christian nations”. Still, I think there is something to be said about nations that are built largely according to Christian principles, that derive from the Christian consciousness (even as the Church does well to keep distinct from the state!). Part of this consciousness involves the idea that God respects individual persons’ freedom to resist Him (we get what we want), and it only seems right and fair that Christians should be able to resist other religions as well. Hence, to be fair, people should be free to resist all particular religions, even as, when it comes to general matters of personal freedom and sensible governance (including justice), we try to persuade them (civilly) through Natural Law argumentation (while making it clear we are, in fact, Christians), which does not preclude talking about the very real felt human consensus about a general Deity(s)/Divine Nature that inhabits (and is responsible for!) the cosmos.”
Here is an excellent quote from Luther on the matter:
“Certainly it is true that Christians, so far as they themselves are concerned, are subject neither to law nor sword, have need of either. But take heed and first fill the world with real Christian before you attempt to rule it in a Christian or evangelical manner.
This you will never accomplish; for the world and the masses are and always will be un-Christian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in names. Christians are few and far between (as they say is). Therefore, it is out of the question that there should be a common Christian government over the whole world, or indeed over a single country or any considerable body of the people, for the wicked always outnumber the good.”
—Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should Be Obeyed (found here)
***-On the other hand, some misunderstand the limits of free consent, seeing it, for example, as the defining moral principle in sexual relationships (see here).