Politics-Government, Religion, Reviews.

Halting steps to soul freedom

Book Book Review, Title The Global Public Square, Author Os Guinness, Rating 2.5, Halting Steps to Soul Freedom

The Global Public Square

Os Guinness

Book Review

Os Guiness' The Global Public Square oscillates between a Utopian call for a universal human rights and a sectarian application of those rights, as if the author was of two minds, wrestling with the views of Roger Williams and James Dobson.

Perhaps it is most instructive to treat the book as an actual exercise in global soul freedom. As such, it reveals an admirable goal to extend human freedoms and some skill at making an argument for it. It also serves to underscore that, when the very advocates of soul freedom struggle to live up to the rules they themselves propose, while in the process of proposing those rules, we still have a long way to go to achieve a universal freedom of conscience.

Os Guinness, an Evangelical Christian thinker, in his recent book The Global Public Square, promoted a soul freedom in  "a civil public square (as) a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths and none are free to enter and engage public life on the basis of their faith, as a matter of freedom of thought, conscience and free exercise." (page 180)   Part of that formulation includes a robust public voice and role for religion in public life.

Guinness seemed to be making a sincere attempt to be more inclusive in his acknowledgement of the diversity of religious beliefs and their legitimate place in any society. This über-tolerance embodied in the concept of soul freedom is not always found among Evangelical Christians, whose very name emphasizes proselytization and whose public practices have often favored apologetics over a civil or civic acceptance of religious diversity.

The author ably marshaled facts to demonstrate how many of today’s societies still repress religion: by limiting it to a single religion, by prohibiting proselytization and conversion, sometimes exiling or killing religious adherents (e.g. Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, etc.). He elaborated on international steps to make the world a safer place for the free exercise of individual conscience. This aspect of the book represents the best efforts of the author.

The author’s second argument was that part of the exercise of religious rights in a civil society is to allow a public voice and role for religion. Guinness was right to say that the public square should remain open to religion as well as to secularism, but his own view of how that should be shaped is often narrow rather than open. The author mentioned the past sins of Christianity when it held great public power, and noted that much of today’s separation of church and state was constructed in reaction to the past voluminous abuses of Christian power exercised culturally, politically and militarily.   (pages 21-23) Yet once acknowledged, he often ignored this, and chronically complained about today’s secular insistence to keep overt religious practices out of state institutions and laws. 

Applying soul freedom to gay activism

Guinness thematically described as tone-deaf those who oppose the injection of overt religious practices into the public square (note 1), but alas some of his own rhetoric seems equally so. An illustrative example is his treatment of the gay rights movement.  He began by asserting that   "Certain homosexual and lesbian activists are advancing their own cause and attacking the freedom of religion and belief of those who disagree with them in a manner that undermines not only religious liberty but civil liberty too—and in fact all human rights." (pages 111-118) 

Yet in the course of these eight pages, Guinness never explained what gay activists are advocating, how they are doing so unfairly, or what religious freedoms would be denied. This style of argumentation is literally Kafkaesque: In Kafka’s novel The Trial, Josef K. was put on trial for charges that were never specified, no evidence offered, and he was eventually executed without explanation. The author’s deep disapproval is however clear, as is his tendency towards hyperbole: In some unspoken way, gay activists are undermining religious and civil liberty – no, make that all human rights.

The author briefly acknowledged the terrible history of brutality and repression of homosexuals by secular and religious groups, which should have provided some understanding of the defensiveness of gay rights activists, or even justify their legitimate concerns born of harsh and unjust, and sometimes un-Christian, treatment. (page 118)    Yet he proved unable to take the high road, going on to describe gay activists as bereft of irony, self-criticism, historical light-weights, victimizers who falsely accusing people of bigotry and holy terrorism, zealous fools who "turn all honest disagreements into charges of hatred, a tactic that is dishonest, illiberal and in the end will backfire on them and their cause." (pages 111-115)  

Applying soul freedom, the author asserted that the right to religious freedom is a human right, whereas the rights being demanded by gay activists were merely civil rights, and human rights always trump civil rights. Ergo, gay activists, by advancing their own cause, were trampling on some unnamed religious rights, and so they must, by Guinness’s letter-of-the-law argument, forfeit those civil rights. It is not difficult to guess why Guinness was unwilling to reveal any particulars here: He has been a long time vocal opponent of gay marriage. His unspoken argument appears to be something like this: he interprets the Bible to proscribe homosexual behavior, and the Bible is the source for his religious beliefs. Therefore the very request of gay activists to be allowed the civil rights to marry is trampling on his religious rights, and since his religious rights trump their civil rights, they should be denied their civil rights.   (pages 113-114) 

The British solution for this situation is that civil rights will trump the religious ones, as Guinness unhappily points out.  I would add that Christian insistence that their religion tells them that homosexuality is wrong becomes problematic when it moves into the public square, not in the form of speech, but in the form of laws imprisoning gays for private sexual practices, policies restricting the hiring of homosexuals, laws or policies restricting homosexual’s civil rights or access to public programs afforded to others, etc.; this is not hypothetical, but describes the history of Christendom.   (page 114) 

Earlier in the book the author took a different stance regarding the priorities of soul freedom vs. civil rights:   "There are important qualifications to this right—above all the equal rights of others, as well as consideration for the public peace and the common good. Or put differently, this freedom is absolute at the point of belief but qualified at the point of behavior, because behavior touches other people and other things." (page 69)   Yet when confronted with something the author found objectionable, same-sex marriage, soul freedom became an absolute right which always trumps civil rights.

Beyond the inconsistency, glaringly absent is civility, balance and kindly judgment; absent also is the Christian love which the author himself unironically called for in a recent video interview about this book: “We’ve got to do a far better job in really genuinely loving people who are in the homosexual lifestyle.” 

This treatment of gay activism did not improve with the anecdote the author chose to relate about a gay activist scientific atheist student he supposedly encountered who was going to take revenge on religious people using the power of the state.   (note 2)

Applying soul freedom to health-care

Guinness also applied the same logic to the recent U.S. Hobby Lobby legal battle, in which the Hobby Lobby company objected to being required to pay for contraception as part of their health-care insurance for their employees, dictated by the new Affordable Care Act (ACA) law, because they had religious objections to abortion and this would indirectly force them to violate their consciences. Here again, the author promoted soul freedom over civil rights. He began by accusing the U.S. President of delivering, by following his Constitutional duty to execute a law passed by Congress, the ACA, a "massive three-punch blow to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as it had long been established in American history and experience . . . a violation of conscience by a direct command." (page 80)

The mandate was for health-insurance provided by companies to its employees, and it required that coverage must include payment for contraception if an employee decided to use them. Some religious organizations bridled at this (not all, many already provided such coverage voluntarily).

These arguments focused on the employers only. Guinness said   "One way or another the religious organizations would be paying for the services to which they objected as a matter of moral conscience . . . Was the violation the intention of the president himself or the result of the pressure of the LGBT lobby?" (pages 80-81)  The strange reference to the gay community aside, the author agreed with the religious objections and reasoning offered in this situation by Hobby Lobby and the Catholic Church.

I would find these arguments more compelling if the injury were directly to the religious objector; in any event, no one, employer or employee, was being forced to use contraception.  In the meantime, the injury now goes to employees who happen to work for an organization that is run by someone who is offended by the use of contraception, a big stretch.  Complicating this argument, the contraception in question was not mislabeled; it was not an agent of abortion, but only prevented conception.  The Hobby Lobby contention was legally bogus, despite the Supreme Court decision in its favor.  (note 3)

This Alice-in-Wonderland logic raises certain questions:  What about devout Christian Scientists who believe only in the curative power of God through prayer, and refuse the use of medicine or medical help? By the author’s interpretation, Christian Scientist businessmen can refuse to provide health insurance for their employees, perhaps by substituting prayer meetings, because to do so would be a violation of the manager’s religious beliefs, which would be tainted if they were forced to pay for health insurance for someone else who did not share their beliefs.  More broadly, can anyone who owes income tax withhold that portion of their taxes that goes to fund something they find morally objectionable?  It’s been tried many times, and hasn’t worked out for anyone.  Note that many other countries in the world provide health insurance through single payer government run systems which function via a tax base – in those countries, opting out of paying for something that is morally objectionable about health care is a non-starter.  

Guinness made some bitter remarks about the perniciousness of judges and the U.S. political process (page 116) , but I would bet he would withdraw those remark in regards the Hobby Lobby decision.  In my estimation, in the Hobby Lobby decision the majority of judges showed poor judgment, as they did not follow the Constitution but followed their political predilections. This was not pernicious, rather the ordinary differences that arise in a political power structure:  if this is to change, additional efforts within the political system would be needed.

Applying soul freedom to public universities

Guinness made a good point about today’s public universities carrying overly secular biases in their approach to education, and correctly pointed out that recent derecognition of Christian clubs on a some U.S. campuses was inappropriate, and in some cases, a violation of religious expression.  But he did not offer much in the way of addressing the clear problems of religious influence in a public university, past or present. The proverbial elephant in the room is that, for example, Christian religious thinking deviates markedly from aspects of Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and agnostic thinking, to the point that they sometimes clearly clash, and even more difficult, that they often insist that their way of thinking should predominate over the other belief systems.  (pages 99-105) 

Which should predominate? The modern secular answer is that when there are such clashes, none will. In public universities this approach places certain aspects of religion in a theological niche; not gone, but sidelined because of the sometimes coercive insistence on the part of these religions to dictate a view of life that would be a violation of another’s right to the very global soul freedom espoused by the author. In liberal democracies private schools provide more focused religious training, such training often in the beliefs of a single sect, which speaks well to the current viability of freedom of religious exercise in many of today’s secular societies, and demonstrates the educational segregation insisted upon by one sect of a religion even from another sect of the same religion.

Too much sectarian hyperbole

It is easy to find extreme and overly simplistic secular and religious voices on both sides of the role of religion in public life, but Guinness spent a substantial portion of his prose criticizing the extreme secular voices, particularly atheist activists, while treating the extreme voices on the religious side of the argument more gently, if he bothered at all.

In a typical example, Guinness argued that Christian Reconstructionists in America are sometimes presented by liberals as examples of dangerous Christian extremism, but that they are a tiny group with no chance of wider political success, and only a paranoid would inflate their significance. Two paragraphs later, the author says this: "‘Religion poisons everything,’ Hitchens cried, yet ‘religion is poison’ was the slogan Mao used to launch his vicious assault on the people of Tibet. If Al-Qaeda places bombs in the public square to kill, the ACLU puts up barriers in the public square to keep out, and the square is empty either way." (page 126) 

Here he introduces a potential problem on the religious side of the equation, immediately minimizes it’s size, and then adds a dash of oblique ad hominem to casually dismiss it. What he failed to note but certainly knew is that some of the language of Christian Reconstructionism is regularly used by millions of self-described Tea Party adherents (The U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, we need to return the U.S. to its founding Christian principles, etc.), which has more typically been the target of the criticism the author chose to describe as paranoid. He then exaggerated the influence of ‘new atheists’ like Hitchens, who “preach” to far fewer atheists, and in the same breath, compared Hitchens to Mao and Mao’s violent treatment of Tibetans, and then directly equated the murderous Al-Qaeda with the ACLU!  Note the imbalance and the hyperbole.  (note 7)

Too little thoughtful engagement

A portion of this book addressed the construction of a workable soul freedom, but the remaining material was the same old set of  attacks on the various ideologies that do not align with the author’s Evangelical Christianity.  All of the usual targets are trotted out: Islam (the bad parts, of course), scientific materialism, postmodernism, atheism (aka godless secularism; formerly known as secular humanism), usw., and the usual points are made, which can be summarized most pithily as Evangelical Christianity superior, other Christian sects OK, other religions suspect, secularism bad.  

While thought systems like postmodernism, scientific materialism, and Christianity have many things to recommend them, one thing none of them are is comprehensive.  Many adherents of ideas from these disciplines readily acknowledge the limits of their belief systems. But each of those ideologies have their designated intellectual warriors who invariably overstate their belief systems, and reflexively dismiss their opponents based on the most extreme and insubstantial of their statements, people such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Os Guinness.  

In this book, Guinness often forgot that he was proposing a framework to avoid ideological posturing and bickering and fell into his familiar role as a culture warrior.  The result was too little thoughtful engagement.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

The book’s strengths are its clear and admirable formulation of the global right for the exercise of individual conscience, its description of some of the worst international violations of soul freedom, and some thoughtful suggestions for means to extend the global public square.  

Its weaknesses are its lack of careful consideration of the limits of universal rights, its sectarian and exaggerated arguments, and its choice to place its main emphasis on the U.S., Britain and Europe, relatively healthy in their soul freedom.

There were a number of lucid passages describing the historical development of today’s freedom of conscience. But the author missed opportunities to widen and strengthen his appeals for soul freedom because he foreshortened some of his historical references; relatedly, he appealed too often to the good old days that, well, weren’t always so good, mostly by bemoaning the decline of civilization.  Unfortunately there were also historical omissions and distortions, the most egregious being that the Holocaust was the result of the "Enlightenment vision of religionless progress" (page 53) ;  much was left out, particularly Christian anti-Semitism. (notes 4,5)

The book is surprisingly light in the careful argumentation one might expect from someone with a doctoral degree from Oxford: Many assertions were made without even a single argument or example provided in support, often in an undisciplined straw-man form. It is unbalanced, targeting liberals and secularists far more often than conservatives or the Religious Right. (note 6) 

The full title of the book is The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity, yet there is a lot of winner-take-all rhetoric, expressed in hyperbole and in uncareful language (note 7), leaving an overall impression of parochial attitudes and of a reluctant rather than an enthusiastic embrace of the diversity which the book set out to promote.

Let’s all play nice together . . .  except when I am not getting my way

Christopher Tollefsen asked: Is there an absolute liberty of conscience?  He  answered  that

freedom of conscience is an important, though limited, right. In some cases a state may prevent someone from acting on her conscientious judgments.

Early in the book the author agreed with this point of view:  his proposed framework acknowledged conflicting freedoms and limited rights and was a genuine step towards a global public square.  But when he applied that framework to gay activism and the provision of contraception, two contentious areas in the United States, he was unwilling to follow his own rules, and explicitly insisted on an absolute liberty of conscience, which trumped all other rights.

The basic ideas of this book are not new: universal freedom of conscience, a public square marked by civility and open to all. As noted earlier, the book attracted my interest not for these ideas alone, but, because it represented to me an unusual effort by a narrow ideologue to reach out to others who did not hold his beliefs. This gave me hope, which, while not lost, was substantially reduced in the reading of the book.

 This book takes one step into the global public square, and two steps back. 



1. Tone-deafness. Guinness here both makes some very good points and misses others. He says:   "One problem I have noted at several points is that those who disdain religion discount freedom of religion and belief." (pages 133-136)  He suggests that because of their biases, they are unable to hear everything that is being offered by religious advocates. I would agree with this.  However, this tone-deafness is not exclusive to the author’s ideological foes, but extends to himself and his sect, too.  I also think “disdain” is an unfortunate word choice; it is probably true for some who discount religion, but it is definitely not true for all, yet it is a word that instantly creates a negative stereotype and closes the ears of the intended audience. The author did this reflexively, as there are many examples of this kind of inflammatory word choice in this book, and is itself a tone-deaf construct.

2. An anecdote from heaven.   "Earlier, I mentioned the angry contribution of a graduate student in a university discussion. 'I’m a scientific atheist and a gay activist,' he said with passion. 'This is payback time. Religious people have it coming to them. We are going to use the power of the state to make sure we are never imposed on again." (page 117)       (page 84) 

I must confess the dialog sounds stilted, too convenient to be real. (This would work as a compact example of Socialist Realism, wherein dialog was often unlikely to have been uttered by an actual person, as it was bent to conform to ideological purposes.)  In four short sentences it pushes many buttons for his primary audience, conservative Evangelical Christians. Gay. Activist. Scientific. Atheist. Vengeful. Overtly threatening: going to get religious people. We will use the power of the state to take vengeance (conspiracy theorists, take note of the threat by them).

It brings to mind Reagan’s favorite anecdote, long acknowledged as a fabrication, which he trotted out to conservative audiences in the South and Midwest, about the welfare cheat, a big woman who drove a Cadillac (massive female, massive cheat, and in case you didn’t get the hint, wink, wink, nudge, nudge . . . she’s a black woman.)

This is a missed teaching moment in a book with many of them (for more examples, note 4 below).  What could the author have done, besides the most obvious thing of leaving it out of the book?  Let’s concede for argument’s sake that this anecdote is true.  Here is a tremendously frustrated person, who’s frustrations are quite palpable and understandable, given the kind of treatment gays have received by Christian society then and even now. (A contemporary sign on a church advertiser:  “Homosexuals, turn or burn”.  Continued public and legal opposition by Christians for homosexual civil rights, even in this book. While there has been a great battle in recent times over marital civil rights for the LGBT community, there still exists legal discrimination in roughly half the states towards homosexuals, who can be legally denied jobs, housing, etc.)

Maybe he is saying that he doesn’t trust Christians to be loving, given the long history of brutality and rejection on their part.  Maybe he is saying that he wouldn’t become a Christian if you gave him a million bucks because their God to him does not seem to be a loving God.  Maybe what he is saying with less than perfect articulation and in the heat of the moment, that he finally sees the government as a protector rather than an instrument of his misery.  

Maybe Guinness, a Christian who routinely refers back to to the persecution of early Christians, and knows that after Constantine, when Christians became politically ascendant, Christians became worse religious persecutors than the Romans ever inflicted on them, might modulate his interpretation of this anecdote and look at ways to continue to extend Christian charity to this student in the spirit of freedom of conscience. 

Or maybe not:  The author instead chastised the student for creating a threat to all human rights.

 (The anecdote was used twice, most obviously in the discussion of gay activism, less obviously around Hobby Lobby.)

3. Religious objections to health-insurance coverage of contraception. The Catholic organizations that protested had a slightly different issue, which is that they objected on religious grounds not only to abortion, but to birth control generally, which brought their concerns directly in conflict with the ACA. (as Michael Palin sang, “Every sperm is sacred.“) It still does not justify a removal of a civil right at one remove.  An article on this subject in the Economist expands on the issues and how Catholic writers were responding to it.

4. Foreshortening historical references. Many of the author’s missed teaching moments came about by foreshortening his historical references; this also produced a certain amount of historical distortion.  A compact example of this is found in the section entitled At Their Own Risk. (pages 118-119) 

First, the author invokes early Christian defiance of Roman law which required them to worship not just their God, but Roman Gods, as acts of conscience that ultimately killed the Roman empire. The author failed to note that the Roman empire continued in the east until 1543, and for 1100 years, the eastern Roman (Byzantine) empire made the Christian religion its state religion, something that all must worship, or be punished just as Christians were punished prior to 381CE. The soul freedom hard won by Christians in Roman society resulted in the removal of soul freedom for pagans, for a much longer period than Christians were persecuted.

Then, he quotes Martin Luther’s famed declaration ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’ for a second time (see box at left for the first reference) as a statement of conscience that ultimately shaped the modern world, without also noting that Luther said many other things that were influential but less than constructive, and in fact in direct contradiction to others ability to exercise their own consciences. His anti-Semitic writings called for the violent treatment, expulsion and death of the Jews, and he openly supported the violent destruction of the peasants by the his patrons the Saxon nobility in 1525 when the peasants took Luther’s stand for the individual interpretation of the Bible seriously, and in the expression of their consciences, defied Luther and his patrons. If the author hadn’t foreshortened his point, he would have found his way to the limits of freedom of conscience. Luther’s openly expressed vituperation towards the Jews, not uncommon in his time or for most of Christian history, was his freely expressed ‘conscience,’ but it clearly advocated the denial of the same for the Jews and for the German peasants. The German peasants, on their part, advocated violence towards the nobility as part of their freely expressed ‘conscience.’

Finally, the author quotes Edward Coke’s invocation of the Magna Carta (he actually quotes this 4 different times in the book) in the face of claims of divine right by James I as an act of conscience, which he describes as a major influence in the British establishment of the rule of law over the monarchy, and of the founding of the American colonies. Coke was indeed a bulldog in fighting for the rights of the citizenry over the monarchy. Yet in some ways, Edward Coke seems an odd choice for a hero for soul freedom. His Puritan zeal not untypically favored his own religious caste; he was not inclined to allow Catholics the same freedom of conscience he demanded for adherents of the Reformed Church. As Attorney General of England, he bent power to crush political, religious and socially inferior opponents, for example ordering the torture of the Jesuit John Gerard for covertly practicing Catholicism in an Anglican state, and framing Raleigh in his trial for treason in 1603. Again, the author missed the opportunity to point out the limits of the exercise of ‘universal’ rights, or to note the oftentimes slow, accidental and reactionary nature of historical changes.

Here are a few other, but not exhaustive examples of this:

a . Claim: Two centuries ago, America faced an explosion of religious diversity. Other thoughts: I’m not sure what religious diversity he means, since the US has been from inception almost exclusively Christian and heavily Protestant: Apparently he means that Catholics and Jews were barely tolerated, and that changing Protestant sects constituted that diversity.  (page 60) 

b.   "But at the same time, the American founders got freedom of thought and conscience right, almost from the very start, and the lessons of their high achievement in this area must not be lost in the general rush to judge their other failings." (page 61) They indeed did very well in this area: But those failings are still salient to note, not because of mere hypocrisy, but because they speak directly to the challenges of global soul freedom:  those ‘failings’ disenfranchised millions of Native Americans and African Americans, and they were denied much more than freedom of conscience.

c.   "Just as the road to Auschwitz began in professors’ studies and academic lecture halls, so the present degraded views of humanity will inevitably create a harvest of evil consequences, even if not fully visible now." (page 67)   This is just plain offensive, coming from the Francis Schaeffer school of sanitized history. The path to Auschwitz is a historically complicated one, but the primary road as described by many Holocaust historians is paved by the brutal anti-Semitic attitudes and actions of the dominant Christian culture towards Jews, going back to the earliest days of Christendom, and justified via the Bible. These Christian attitudes were in full display under Nazism, where for example the German Protestant Church played a substantial role in supporting Nazi anti-Semitic policies, including their regular use of Luther’s writings to justify the Nuremberg Laws and Kristallnacht, among other Nazi measures against the Jews. These measures led to the Endlosung, the Final Solution. Christopher Probst’s recent book Demonizing the Jews: Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany provides a detailed account of this, as does Robert Ericksen’s Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany.

d. "Over against the deficient views of Rousseau, whose logic flowers naturally but most fully and foully in totalitarianism and a denial of all human rights, it was once held firmly in the West that every human had dignity and worth." (page 72)   This is an unfair characterization in several ways; I will address part of it.  Because Rousseau was posthumously, selectively and radically mis-quoted by revolutionaries, in part to justify unjustifiable totalitarian acts, his “logic flowers naturally and most fully and foully in totalitarianism”! Using this particularly specious brand of logic, one can point out that Hitler regularly quoted the Bible in Mein Kampf and in public speeches to justify some of his ideas, in particular the subhuman qualities of the Jew, to which great crowds of German Christians roared their approval, and so obviously the logic of the Bible “flowers naturally and most fully and foully in totalitarianism”! Another from the Schaeffer school of distorted history, who employed this form of analysis often, memorably with Darwin: Schaeffer blamed Darwin for the Holocaust, via the intermediary of Social Darwinism, a severe and posthumous distortion of some of Darwin’s thoughts, again with no acknowledgment of the heavy role played by Christian culture.

5. Antidisestablishmentarianist?  In the sixth grade, the word antidisestablishmentarianism was described to me and my classmates as the longest word in the English language: None of us had any idea of what the word meant at the time, but the intervening years produced an understanding that disestablishmentarianism is the call for the removal of an established state religion from state control, coined in a Great Britain that had established the Church of England (Anglican) under Henry VIII and had never relinquished state control of that religion (it is as of this writing still the status quo). The anti form of the word describes a desire to retain religion under state control in opposition to those who support its removal. In two of the more perplexing passages of the book the author left the impression he was an antidisestablishmentarianist. He implicitly made the argument for the retention of Lutheranism as the state religion of Sweden, and the retention of the Anglican Church as the state religion of Great Britain.  Guinness argued for the latter because the citizens of Great Britain have yet to vote for its removal, and that to remove it without such a vote would be a violation of soul freedom! Even though he repeatedly says he supports the idea of the separation of church and state, in this he again showed little understanding of the idea that a religion of the state is necessarily coercive for those citizens who are not adherents of that religion and harmful to their soul freedom. It seems to me that a first step in the support of freedom of conscience is the overt separation of church and state. His argument seems to be that separation of church and state is good, except when people haven’t voted for it. Not exactly a principled defense of soul freedom. (page 123)   (page 107) 

6. The dominance of straw-men. The author is learned, and effectively quotes many other writers and thinkers, past and present, as a quick look at his Name Index will verify.

But the majority of his arguments feature nameless straw-men, most of them negative. Below are use counts of words employed as straw-men indicators, which correlate well to what a reader experiences as they progress through the book:  the biggest targets in this book are liberals, secularists and atheists.  The author, a conservative member of the Religious Right, spends significantly less time addressing problems of his own group.  It is nearly an order of magnitude difference.

Label Use Count Variations
Liberal 107 liberal(s), liberalism, illiberals (the last almost always an ironic reference to a liberal acting illiberally)
Secularist 100 secularist(s), secularism, when combined with liberal or atheist.
Atheist 34 atheist(s).
Conservative 25 conservative(s)
Religious Right 4  


7. Hyperbole in the service of demagoguery.   "For when right is pitted against right, and a favored right is backed to win at the expense of a less favored right, the result is a Nietzschean moment that exposes the hollowness of all rights and shows that rights are really a matter of raw power. . . . The dark logic of this dismissal of religious liberty in favor of civil liberty in a zero-sum game is blunt: No rights are any longer inalienable and inviolable. Liberalism itself then dissolves into a mere power player in postmodern power games, inalienability evaporates as a fiction, all rights talk is unmasked as a power struggle between interest groups, and both the Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are rendered null and void. Indeed, the whole experiment in human freedom is exposed before the wider world as a monumental fraud." (page 115)  

This particularly overwrought passage comes from the author’s explication of his opposition to gay activism.  These activists disagree with him in the global public square (they want, for example, legalized same-sex marriage, he does not).  These are the typical and difficult decisions that have to be made about conflicting rights:  In this case, Guinness claims a religious right to suppress gay marriage because his interpretation of the Bible tells him it is morally wrong.  Gays argue that religion should not determine their civil right to be married, because they are members of society like everyone else, and their sexual orientation should not remove their access to civil services and rights given to heterosexuals.  There is nothing easy about this conflict, but one side will predominate, and making exaggerated doomsday claims because your side is not prevailing is not in the spirit of the very global public square the author is advocating in this very book.

The Christian community is deeply divided on this issue; many of the author’s fellow Christians disagree with him, most not part of the LGBT community and who cannot be conveniently labeled gay activists. If Guiness prevailed with his arguments, are the human freedoms of his fellow Christians being obliterated? Is their freedom of conscience being dissolved in postmodern power games? The argument he makes here come across as little more than a narrow power play of its own, both within the Christian community and without.

There are other passages similar to this in the book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Solve the puzzle to post a comment *