Some of you will be familiar with the song “Tom Sawyer” by the 1980’s rock band Rush. One line in particular typifies the autonomous spirit of our age. The lyricists, Neil Peart, referring to “today’s Tom Sawyer” says that “…his mind is not for rent, to any god or government.” In other words, individual autonomy is the modern ideal.
This shunning of any external authority has deep roots in Western thought, going back at least to the 18th century Enlightenment, particularly in its French form.
One of the key players in the French Enlightenment was Voltaire (aka François-Marie Arouet, 1694-1778). Voltaire was significantly influenced by a lesser known figure Jean Meslier (1664-1729), a Roman Catholic priest and closet atheist. (Meslier’s atheistic writings were not discovered until after his death in 1729.) Voltaire said of Meslier that he was the most important of “the meteors” to strike a deadly blow “to the Christian religion.” Voltaire was fond of quoting a quip from Meslier:
Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.
<p”>Behind this graphic statement is the peculiar Enlightenment belief that the source of all evil and oppression is not evil in the human heart but rather evil in the social structures. Thus, if we can just change or throw off the social structures, then the natural goodness of the human heart will be free to express itself and produce the harmonious society for which we all so desperately long. In the words of Voltaire’s German counterpart Immanuel Kant, people need to be free to use “their own reason confidently…without outside guidance.”
But does such a notion of liberty really lead to freedom and harmony? Sadly, it did not in the France; it led to violence and chaos.
Unjustly condemned to the guillotine during the French Revolution, Madame Roland paused to pay homage to the statue of liberty in the Place de la Revolution, saying:
Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name!
Our efforts at freedom are fragile, and our latch on liberty elusive. Why? Because true liberty doesn’t grow from within us, but is a gift granted by our Creator.
Something to think about from “The Kingdom Perspective”.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
~2 Corinthians 3:17 NASB