In this episode, Kurt is joined by Os Guinness to discuss his latest book “The Last Call for Liberty.”
Listen to “Episode 124: The Last Call for Liberty” on Spreaker.
Kurt: Well a good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. So nice to be with you here in our offices in downtown West Chicago in the far western suburbs of the metropolitan city of Chicago. A lot of people get confused when I say I live in West Chicago and work in West Chicago. They think I’m in the western part of the city. No. I’m about an hour west. I like it out here in the suburbs, out of the edge between rural and urban, but it’s very nice to be with you here. Last week we had a very fine episode, a pre-recorded episode actually with Tim Stratton on libertarian freewill, the philosophy of how an individual might be free in some circumstance, but it was pre-recorded because a week before I had actually been in Denver for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society and just a few days before that, my wife gave birth to our third child and we’ve named her Meadow and so bless Michaela’s soul for allowing me to go to Denver and to deliver my paper on some of my research for my doctoral work. It was well-received and it was great to network and see some old friends, make some new ones, just a wonderful time there. Glad to be back with you though here in our offices. So like I said, last week, our episode was on libertarian freewill and we had a question from one of our listeners, John, and so to start off I’m actually going to start this episode with the mailbag.
Kurt: Alright. John writes in. He says, “Hi, Kurt. I’ve been reading the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” by Mark Noll and I have fallen in love with the history of things. History is my second favorite subject behind theology/apologetics/polemics, etc. If I’d been available yesterday when he submitted the question that is and if you were taking questions I may have asked something akin to this, “How did a Protestant tradition rooted in the Reformation, Whitfield, Edwards, etc., come to express itself by accepting freewill in terms of soteriology whether full-blown Arminianism, Molinism, or any other view that purports to be in the middle. The heart of the Reformation stressed human incapacities more than natural human abilities. I think any potential answers to this question may lead to another question. Namely, what are some principles of the Enlightenment that continue to shape evangelical thought today?” My guest today I’m sure could answer that second question. Let me tackle your first one, John. You ask again, how did the Protestant tradition which was rooted in a view of human incapacity come to be more accepting of freewill. Here’s what I would say. The Reformation was a movement to combat the sense that one could earn their own salvation, that notion of works-righteousness, so I think what you call full-blown Arminianism or Molinism. These soteriological positions, mind you Molinism is really a position on divine foreknowledge, they would still affirm with the traditional Protestant view that salvation is a gift from God, it is nothing we can earn. Whether a human is able to do anything as part of that process, say, for example, the accepting of a gift, that wouldn’t be a work per se and I know there’s a disagreement between Calvinists and others on that distinction, so I think that’s what I would say is, where some of these other later Protestant views came in, they realized there is some sense of human freedom. There is some sense of synergism greater than what the Reformers themselves perhaps thought. Very good question. There’s lots more that could be said on this, but unfortunately for time, we’ll have to move along, but I’m sure to your second question, our guest today can really enlighten on us. Get it? Enlighten. Enlightenment. Chris. You missed that. Our guest today is none other than the reincarnation of Alexis de Tocqueville. He is Os Guinness. He’s the author of more than 30 books including the Global Public Square, A Free People’s Suicide, Renaissance, Foolish Talk, and Impossible People, which if you remember from was it a year or two ago now, we had Os to talk about Impossible People and he’s a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute and a senior fellow at the East-West Institute, a frequent speaker and prominent social critic, he’s addressed audiences worldwide. Os. Thank you so much for joining us on our program today.
Os; Kurt. It’s always a privilege. Thank you.
Kurt: Has anyone other than me compared you to Alexis De Tocqueville?
Os: Very generously have. I think on the back of the describes[NP1] me as an English Tocqueville which is very kind. No one approaches Alexis De Tocqueville, but it’s fine to try.
Kurt: Yes. You are a modest and humble man as well. Thanks for carving time out of your schedule. I know you’ve been off traveling and I definitely want to thank you for fitting us into your schedule today.
Os: My privilege.
Kurt: Last Call for Liberty is about the status of freedom in America today and the first question I wanted to ask you, do you draw a distinction between freedom and liberty and if so, what is that distinction?
Os: I personally don’t really. Some people make a difference to even the roots of freedom in German which[NP2] came across to England in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, and liberty which came from the Latin word Libertas, but I don’t think any of that really much matters either to the founders or to where we are today. You can take liberty and freedom roughly overlapping, but the question’s how do we define it?
Kurt: Yes. Precisely. So how would you define freedom?
Os: The word, and this is part of the answer to what you were saying in an earlier discussion with a questioner, there are three main streams of liberty in America today. The earliest one partly came across in the Puritans, it’s what’s called the ancient liberties of the English, and that’s what does go back to Magna Carta, way back to and[NP3] so on. Past Churchill’s term, the ancient liberties of the English, and that’s certainly one of the streams, but in this 1960’s rejection of everything and[NP4] now the even more strong rejection of everything connected to white privilege, that sort of view is hardly discussed today. The second and far bigger stream is the Reformation. This is where I think some of your other discussion left out some important factors. The Catholic Church from the triumph of the emperor Theodosius who made Rome, Christian and then copied Roman structures in the church, the Pope was akin to the Caesar and giving the Roman Catholic Church hierarchial structures based on power. It was a Catholic Layman, Lord Acton, who made the famous remark that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and it was those structures brought in from Rome which led to the Inquisition and the of[NP5] the Jews and various things that, for example, confessed[NP6] sixty times. Well, the Reformation didn’t go that way. The Reformation went back to the Bible and you can see the notion in Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, Cromwell, and England. The notions of covenantalism. In England, it was behind the English Revolution, but it lost, it failed, and in England it’s called the lost cause and that view of freedom jumped the Atlantic with the Mayflower with the and[NP7] became over here the winning cause in New England. America’s founding owes more to the Reformation and its views of freedom and covenant than even many Christians realize let alone secular people. The third stream today is quite a different one going back to the French Revolution. That’s really what my book’s about, the way ideas have come down from Rosseau, Voltaire, and the French Revolution, Marquis De Sade, Nietzsche, and many many people sense then, they are really through the universities and the press and media starting to dominate America and they’re very different and they’re very disastrous. I think your question actually didn’t understand the Reformation roots of freedom.
Kurt: Yes, and to his benefit, I think John was asking about the soteriological aspects about individual freedom in the salvation process, but certainly….
Os: But Kurt, people get off immediately into theological discussions and if the Catholic Church made the mistake of copying Roman structures, evangelicalism made the great mistake of taking books like Exodus and so on and spiritualizing them and personalizing whereas the Reformation saw them as a template for community, for politics. We’ve lost sort of corporate things and above all we’ve lost the notion of political freedom that came out of it. The central idea is that a free God, this is behind Exodus, a free God is freeing His people, so they can worship Him freely, and then, of course, the covenant tells you the way they’re supposed to live together. We’ve lost that in these completely barren discussions of predestination and freewill and whether we have any freedom and such, we’ve lost the richness of the Reformation tradition and the Old Testament tradition.
Kurt: I’m certainly with you there. We’ve definitely lost that corporate sense. We can trace that corporate sense throughout history and that’s where we’ve gone astray, especially on religious freedom, especially the past 20 years or so, 20 and 30 years, and we’re getting the sense of freedom now from the French Revolution. What would you say is the status of freedom in America today?
Os: My book is called the Last Call for Liberty. It’s a Rubicon moment. Everyone agrees we’re deeply divided. The question is what’s the deepest division. Some people say it’s just another episode in left against right, or it’s the coastal, New York and California, against the heartlanders, and the more recent discussion is it’s the globalists against the nationalists and populists. I think all of those have some merit, but they don’t come down to the deepest division of all which is between those who see America and see freedom in the light of the American Revolution which was decisively, not fully sadly, not fully, biblical, and those who see America and those who see freedom in the light of the ideas that have flown from the French Revolution. You take things like political correctness, postmodernism, tribal politics, sexual revolution, everyone of those and others, they go back to 1789 and its heirs and they’re thoroughly antibiblical. You look at the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese Revolution. They’re all and[NP8] they were all disastrous for freedom and they produced a regime that was worse than the one before and they produced their Reigns of Terror and their killing fields and it will be disastrous for America if within the next 10 years or so there’s a decisive lurch to the left. The trouble is unlike the 1850’s and 60’s, there’s no Lincoln. The difference is that Lincoln addressed the problems, the evil of slavery, in the light of what he called the better angel of the American nature in the light of the Reformation. Even Martin Luther King viewed the Declaration of Independence as a promissory note. In other words, it was there promising something, freedom and equality, but it was never cashed in and the Civil Rights movement tried to cash it in, but if you look at the movement sense then from they[NP9] don’t believe in the Declaration of Independence. Take say the kneeling controversy and so on and you can say we’re on the edge of a triumph of ideas that are absolutely inimical to the American Revolution.
Kurt: If we could try to survey American history, when would we say this shift began away from the movement that the founders had envisioned?
Os: You can see three periods of shifts. The third one I’ll mention is the deepest. One is Charles Beard and Parrington and people like that who in the early 20th century accused the framers of having a quasi-Marxist agenda. In other words, there were Virginia Plantation owners and they really had these high-firmed views of freedom, but they really wanted to keep the slaves down, and you can see from then on right now to people like Howard Zinn in the current public school curricula, you have that view. Then you have that progressives from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama and they said in effect, framers were great, maybe, in their time, but we’re in a different time and we’re progressing and we’re beyond their ideas and we have a new world and we need new ways, but I think the real objection is deeper. It’s those who look at the evils that were in the Constitution, say the three first clauses, in other words they say, “For all that promise of freedom and equality, there was an evil and their was hypocrisy so we throw out the baby, bathwater, and all.” Lincoln said, “We attack on the evil but in the light of the promise.” They say, “No. We reject the whole thing.” When did that actually happen? I think myself in the 60’s. Martin Luther King Jr. in his great I Have A Dream speech spoke of the promissory note. Stokely Carmichael rejected the whole thing and some were the rise of the anti-Vietnam war type radical feminism. Some were around 1968. I choose 68 because that was the year that[NP10] , the leader of the Red Brigade, called for a long march through the institutions. In other words, picking up who[NP11] replaced the ideas of Karl Marx with a much subtler understanding of how you win revolutions, through the dominance of the elites, the gatekeepers. You have a long march of the institutions. We’re exactly 50 years on[NP12] , and you can see that the universities and colleges, they’ve been won. Press and media are largely one. The world of entertainment and Hollywood, largely won, by the liberal left, so I think America is very close to it. The problem is many Republicans don’t understand it. You take the present five years of Making America Great Again. You never ask what made it great in the first place? It wasn’t, in fact[NP13] , , and it wasn’t the economy. It was actually ideas, but he never tackled those, so somewhere around the 60’s the faithful lurched left.
Kurt: If we could think of potential solutions for where to use this term, salvaging the situation, what are some ideas that we could bring back in order to bring those people back over to the cause of liberty?
Os: First we need leadership, and I’ve spoken three times in the Senate the last few months and said last bluntly, “Which of you will take such a lead as Lincoln did addressing today’s evils in light of the better angels and really believing the Declaration and the founding documents.” We need leadership, courage, revision, and so on. But there needs to be a real understanding, that is the issue, to go to this view of freedom or that view of freedom, and do you see what the choice means and the consequences will come, whichever you take, but among other things, we need a restoration of civic education. E Pluribus Unim. It was called the melting pot the way the public schools were not just pre-universal education but they were free education that taught the first things of what it meant to be American, the unim. No one does that now. No one has a clue what the unim is. Whether I’m talking to CEOs or college students or church people, I often ask them, “Get a piece of paper and write down ten things that are part of the unim, the uniting first principles all Americans should subscribe to.” Hardly anyone can get beyond 1 or 2. In other words, we need a restoration of the civic education. Go back, I mentioned the covenant, the rabbis point out rightly what did Moses speak about the night of the Passover? Hundreds of years slavery, they’re going free tonight. Did he talk about freedom? No. Did he talk about the Promised Land of milk and honey? No. Did he talk about the howling desert they had to cross? No. He talked about children, three times he refers to children. In other words, to really have freedom you’ve gotta pass it down from parents to children, from teachers to students. It’s got to live in the hearts and minds or freedom dies and so we need a restoration of civic education teaching kids and teaching new immigrants what it means to be American and I think also on a very different level, this is now the public square, we need a revival of faith right across the church because the scandal of the American church is we’re a huge majority in the country, but we have less cultural influence than tiny groups like the transgenders are less than 1% of America. The LGBT are less than 2-3% of America and yet they have far more cultural influence than we do. Shaming us, we’re not salty and lightbearing and we need to cry out for the Lord for a viable reformation among His people starting with each of us.
Kurt: You talked about how we need to have good leaders. Who might be some people you could think of in American history that we could look to? I know you mentioned Lincoln and you mentioned MLK. Who are some of other folks we could look into and explore their ideas to being adapting them for today’s society?
Os: Obviously, the founding generation was an extraordinary generation of leaders and I would say, you think I’m English, you think of Churchill in World War II. You think of Athens and Pericles. Often nations that throw up individual great leaders. What’s remarkable about your family is there’s a whole group of them all in the same generation so they’re incredible, but the reason I focus on Lincoln is America today is as deeply divided as it was just before the Civil War, although over different things, and Lincoln understood that and we need leadership that understands that and addresses it today. I’ve been in Washington more than thirty years. I’ve only had two people on capital hill really speak with any understanding of history and almost nobody today is addressing what I think are the real problems. There’s anarchists decrying incivility. I wrote on incivility years ago and certainly that’s a problem, but it’s not the cause of the division. That’s the consequence. We need leadership that really addresses the real problems?
Kurt: I know I remember I was listening to one of the Republican primary debates and I believe Senator Rand Paul had quoted from one of your books and so on national television, I’m sure that was quite, I’m not sure if you were watching at that time, but maybe you heard about it at that time.
Os; I was watching and I almost fell off my chair.
Kurt: That’s great.
Os: Senator Rand Paul is a man of independent thinking and real courage. I have spoken to him about some of these things and I sent him a copy of my book. I hope that if he appreciates it he will speak and address some of these things, but there’s relatively few who can do that. One Christian brother, Senator Ben Sasse, has an extraordinary grasp of history, two good books out now, latest one being Them, but he’s still not addressing what I think is the deepest issue.
Kurt: Let’s move along a little bit. If America were to lose our freedom, because sometimes there are fear tactics out there and sometimes people buy into the fear, so it’s my perception that, and yours as well that we’re losing freedom, so what will happen in America as we continue to go down this road?
Os: It will be with specific freedoms. You take say the closing of the American lines type thing in free speech on campuses. The universities are finishing schools of freedom, but instead of being bastions of freedom, they’re shutting down speech. You mentioned freedom of religion and conscience. That used to be America’s first liberty and America’s done better than any nation in history, maybe for 300 odd years, but in the last 20 years, we’ve had a great sea change of the freedom of religion and conscience than in the previous 300. I call them the three dark hours, but leave out the first two. The third one is what I call the rebranders. They’ve taken freedom of religion and turned it into a code word for bigotry and discrimination and they’re attacking it now. They’re not only undermining a very basic human right, but challenging something that’s deeply liberal, the right to descent, and the right of conscientious moral objection. We’re seeing it person by person. Florida’s or[NP14] a baker like Jack Phillips, so someone, say Charles Murray and visiting[NP15] and this one[NP16] by one by one by one, and that’s already begun to happen in ways that are extremely troubling.
Kurt: You use that term liberal in the classical sense, not necessarily in the contemporary source, meaning free to do something whereas in our contemporary discussion it carries a different connotation. Right?
Os: That’s part of what I call that fateful lurch left in the 60’s. Up till the 60’s, America was a liberal project, in the 1960’s hence the term. In other words, the protection of the freedom of the individual above all over against the government and state. But then in that lurch left, it became the promotion of progressive ideas through the use of the government regardless of the individual, so I think the word liberal is far too important. It’s roots are in freedom and generosity, liberal generosity. I will never give up the word liberal, but I disagree strongly with those who are secular progressives in this leftwing way who have nothing to do with real freedom in its classical sense.
Kurt: Yes. Alright, Os, we’ve got to take a short break here. It’s a 90-second break from our sponsors. When we come back though, we’ve got more questions for you, and before we part here, if you’re watching the livestream on Facebook right now, I want to encourage you to share the video and comment on the livestream here and if you share the video we’re giving away one copy of Os’ book here, “The Last Call For Liberty: How America’s Genius For Freedom Has Become Its Greatest Threat.” So stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. If you’d like to learn how you can become a sponsor, or just a patron, that’s someone who chips in a few bucks a month to our program, you can go to our website, Veracityhill.com, this is episode 124. We’ve been bringing new content to you week after week for over two years now. It’s been such a blessing to do so and we would love to continue to expand our program and our offering. We’re actually in talks with a radio network right now to begin for the first time airing our program over the radio waves in a smaller city in America, but it’s a start and we would love to get your support in our doing so. Looking back at our older episodes here, episode 18 was when we last interviewed Os last, Impossible People, that’s when his book came out, and so that was a great, I really had my fanboy come out in me. Os. I’m not sure if you remember that, but that was a fun interview for me.
Os: I enjoyed it.
Kurt: We’re talking about freedom and liberty, the status of freedom in America today and my guest is none other than the social critic Os Guinness. At least for me, his reputation precedes him on our program today. Again, if you’re just joining us, if you share the video and comment we’re giving away Os’s book The Last Call For Liberty which is recently published by IVP books. Okay, Oz. I want to ask you, you’ve talked many times about pluralism in society and how pluralism is a good solution forward so that freedom can exist in our society and continue to exist. Tell us a little bit about what pluralism is and how it can be helpful.
Os: I slightly change what I would believe. I would say pluralism is just a social fact. In other words, there are a lot of people with a lot of different ideas, different cultures, different religions, different languages, different backgrounds. Pluralism is a social fact. You move from the fact to the philosophy. That’s relativism. You and I would strongly disagree with relativism. I would say pluralism is a fact. Relativism is dead wrong. Then you move to the policy of multiculturalism and I think that’s very misguided which has produced identity politics, tribal politics, victim politics, all that sort of nonsense. Extremely dangerous. I distinguish pluralism as a social fact and the fact the last fifty years, the technical term is called pluralization. That’s the process, things like travel, the media, scholarship, migration, put all these things together, they produce what’s now called the place where everyone is now everywhere. America’s been much more pluralistic than the beginning than most countries. The only real parallel with where we are today is the Roman Empire which had incredible diversity, but it was Mediterranean, whereas now pluralism is virtually global and you can go almost anywhere in the world and you’ll see a huge amount of differences from cuisines to restaurants right up to worldviews, so I distinguish the social fact, that’s pluralism, we can’t deny it. Whether you like it or not, it’s here. I disagree with relativism. I disagree with multiculturalism and I try to work out how we live through that fact which is freedom of conscience for everybody.
Kurt: That fact can be very helpful because it’s a truth that many people can’t deny and thereby you’re saying it’s indicative that we should have this freedom because without it, tyranny results and this is something that the founders really wanted to set up structures to prevent from happening and I want to read an excerpt from your book here which I think just brilliantly explains this. You write, “The problem of the abuse of power was what the founders ordering of freedom was designed to answer in the first place with its constitutional framework, its separation of powers, its checks and balances, its underlying realism about the abuse of power and its insistence on civic education and the golden triangle of freedom. There were to be rules of the contests for all the players. Rules for the contest to be fair for all the players and rules for the contest to remain a contest and not a brawl which means that the rules of the contest had to be accepted and respected by all the players with no exception.” And you say all that broke down in the 2016 election. Tell us more. How did we see all of that break down? This didn’t come out of left field. It’s the culmination of decades of political punches, partisan politics, the loss of civility, but tell us more.
Os: I think if you analyze the progress of this revolution, another revolution really coming from 1789, not 1776, there are various milestones that are important to notice. One was certainly the presidential election of 2016. Another one was the hearing surrounding judge Brett Kavanaugh, and you can see there even following 2016, you can see there the rejection of process, the rejection of the presumption of innocence, the reliance on alleged facts which are cooked up and the reliance of crowds hammering with violence and so on. You can trace the breakdown of these things. What will be next? I don’t know. Editors cut out of my book a paragraph I had about the fact that when words break down, conflict and violence are never far away and one of the dangers is the scapegoating, think the[NP17] , the scapegoating which could lead to an assassination and I still had deep concerns for something like that, but it was cut out of my book, but I do think the revolution is actually spiring down still and each side is concerned about the other, but nobody is doing the Lincoln, addressing the real roots of the problem in the light of the better angels of the American Revolution. Literally, no one.
Kurt: Hopefully, someone will stand up. Dear God, I hope someone stands up.
Os: I do too.
Kurt: You write that Americans are asleep in their churches, they’re asleep in their homes, they’re asleep to the cause and importance of liberty. What do you mean by that?
Os: Liberty’s just a cliche in this country. How many times have I heard that the[NP18] freedom and family, just roll off the tongue, but if you look at history, take the history of civilization. If you put it down to a compressed single hour, free societies only come in in the last five minutes and they’re rare and they’re fleeting. Americans think, “We’re free. We’re free. We’re free. We’ll stay free forever.” That’s really foolish. Freedom never ever lasts. The framers knew that. They had a system for sustaining freedom. We either don’t know what it is or there are many people in this country who ultimately reject it. There’s an incredible sleepy complacency, call it naivete, call it what you like. Americans aren’t saying “What is freedom and how do we sustain it? Where are we now?” and so on. We’re at a very very critical period.
Kurt: I can think here, from your previous book, “Impossible People” you wrote about Saint Peter Damian and remind us a little bit about who St. Peter Damian was.
Os: That book was a book to Christians and Peter Damian, he’s not well-known like Martin Luther or Francis of Assisi, but in the 11th century Peter Damian was a reformer in a time of financial, sexual, moral corruption of the church which was pretty extreme as parts of the church are today, but he was so sold-out to Jesus, he was called the impossible man, in which he couldn’t be manipulated. He couldn’t be bribed. He was incorruptible, unbribable. As George Orwell said later, “Unclubbable.” He didn’t just become a member of a group and get along and go along and all that. He was Christ’s man. We need Christians today who are like that.
Kurt: Here I ask you that because I’m drawing a connection here, because you talk about Americans in general are asleep on their own liberty, but if I as a Christian and someone who’s studying theology and speak at churches, if I could talk to Christians for a moment I would say we need to be like Peter Damian in America today, looking at our American values and virtue that we can continue to promote and advocate for in the public square so we need to be like Peter Damian, not just as a Christ follower, but a Christ follower in America. Alright. How does religious history inform the current crisis of freedom, especially religious freedom, in America today?
Os: I wouldn’t say religious history. I’d just say history. You know the many many statements from and[NP19] Winston Churchill and hundreds of others who point out that unless you know history, you don’t have any real sense of identity and are incapable of moving well into the future, and yet a lack of history is one of the features of Americans today, including many Christians, they’re just not interested in history, which is absolutely crazy. Another thing that’s very close to religion is reading books, and you can see the younger generation, everything on the internet, they don’t actually read that many books and that’s absolutely disastrous. The thoughtful Christians are people who need to understand history. We don’t have to read as a historian reads history, but for instance, I take a lot of my history in through biographies which are a much more personal and colorful way of understanding a period, but we need history and we need to read books which are the central source of maintaining wisdom.
Kurt: It really is astounding the younger generation, they’re on the internet, we’re in the information age, and yet the ability to process that information, it’s inept. It’s just, I think here there was this comedy, I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen it speaking of entertainment called Idiocracy and it’s a fascinating comedy because it starts off with an interesting premise, that intelligent people tended to have fewer amount of kids. They would spend more time on their careers and studying and they only had 1-2 or kids or maybe they didn’t have any and the less intelligent people in a society have many kids and just over time, what would happen is the less intelligent people would have the greater aspect of the population and eventually these people would just, they couldn’t process information, they couldn’t think constructively or critically and these were the people of society and so some people have even compared, I think the president of America, it was 200 years in the future or something like that. Chris, I’m not sure if you’ve seen it. You’re a movie guy. I think President Camacho, people have compared Trump to president Camacho. Really fascinating there to see that connection.
Os: I put one[NP20] of the things, we’ve been looking at ideas, idealogies, the French Revolution’s ideas against the American Revolution’s ideas, but you can equally say one of the other factors of the rise of the so-called managerial elite and that’s part of the Washington Establishment. It’s nothing to do with ideas, but the managerial elite has a real disdain for ordinary people so they are educated, looking down on the uneducated rubes. They are secular looking down as president Obama said, who cling to God and their guns, and you can go on down the line. This is behind things like Hilary Clinton’s disdain for the Basket of Deplorables. You can see across the western world a managerial elite, they happen to be mostly secular and progressive too, but it’s not an ideological that’s behind it, it’s more they’re experts and everyone else are dumb amateurs who need to understand what they know and the expert knows best. This is extremely dangerous. If I understand your series, they make fun of all that, but you need to see some of the roots of it. It’s not just Trump. Trump appealed to people who had been forgotten by the managerial elites and they’re part of America too. You can’t just appeal to them. You’ve got to appeal to the American Revolution, to every American citizen, and call them back to a far higher way so we can’t just have reaction[NP21] elitist saying that’s not enough. You gotta[NP22] transcends that, but many of those who disdain Trump are unfortunately people on that managerial elite side, Obama and Clinton, above all and both of them are incredibly disdainful of ordinary Americans. No Christian should ever be like that. People point out Moses was the first servant-leader in history. He served God and he served his people and no great leader ever does anything but serve the people they lead and so this elite disdain is absolutely disgraceful.
Kurt: And you’re certainly right that comedy is poking fun at this scenario and one of our viewers right now, Tony, he writes, “Please make sure you’re not condoning that movie.” Tony, yes. What I’ve said it’s one of those few movies, if the only movie ever to change genres, it’s gone from comedy to a documentary, where it predicted what would happen in America and it’s happening before our eyes. Os. We’ve talked about freedom, of course, and the status of freedom in America. You write that freedom is the absence of coercion. For a Christian like myself, I might be a bit concerned that should we as Americans allow freedom to do acts which we think are very immoral to the creator God and where do we draw that line between which freedoms are acceptable in a society?
Os: Let’s understand, most people agree with a very basic definition of freedom. It is the ability to express your will in thought and words and action, despite resistance and despite coercion. That’s a very basic thing, but then you have a lot of the distinctions that come in. As Lord Acton says, freedom is not the permission to do what you like. It’s the power to do what you ought. Freedom, biblically, assumes truth, it assumes character. It assumes the way of the Lord, in other words a way of life, which is friendly to freedom and without that do what you like which is permissiveness, license, the end of freedom, so you’re bringing in distinctions that are very very important, but the absence of coercion is just the basic. Put it this way, I the[NP23] great Jewish philosopher. Freedom he said was negative and positive. Negative freedom. Freedom from. No one is free if they’re under the control of anyone or anything outside themselves. A bully or a colonial oppressor or a sexual harasser, they’re not free, or say drugs, alcohol, or pornography. They’re not free. You’ve got to start with negative freedom. Freedom from external control and coercion. That’s only half of freedom. Real freedom is not liberations. It’s liberty. That requires positive freedom, freedom from, freedom to be, and as you said that requires truth, knowing the way of the Lord, and so on, but the trouble is libertarian freedom, again you heard that your last discussion, most libertarian freedom today is only negative. People want to be free from everything and they don’t realize that just leads to chaos and the increase of controls that come in. We’ve got to have a definition of freedom that’s much more realistic and robust and you’ll find that, of course, leads to the biblical worldview and our Lord Himself. You will know the truth and the truth sets you free.
Kurt: How do you ground this sense of freedom? Is there room for talk of having rights in your sense of freedom?
Os: Of course there are rights, but responsibilities, but the grounding is actually the real question, for you take where do people ground freedom today? Go back to the Bible. The alternatives to Jewish society, Israelite society was Egypt, no freedom at all, or Babylon, no freedom at all. In Babylon, it was the stars. Move on down into the Greeks. They talked of freedom, but behind everything, take the great tragedies of Sophocles and so on. Oedipus Rex. Behind everything, fate, destiny, and even the gods couldn’t change that. You think that’s the ancient world. Surely we believe in freedom. Actually look at secularism today. The great secularists, Spinoza, Marx, Freud. J.B. Watson, B.F. Skinner, Jacques Monod, and come right down to the new atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris. Sam Harris’s book on freedom has a puppet on the front dangling from the strings and the fact is there is no atheist who can give you the grounds of freedom. When you start with naturalistic science alone, you simply can’t find freedom. All you find is determinisms, chemical, genetic, historical, social, economic. You name it. The Bible is the only place where you can actually ground freedom and it sounds like an empty claim that Christians have made or some apologetic bravado, but I challenge anyone to look at the alternatives and say where do you ground freedom? Only in the Jewish and Christian scriptures.
Kurt: If American Christians can point to the Bible as that source of freedom, why is it that we don’t do so as much? Why is it that our first inclination is to say point to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights?
Os: Remember the Constitution is actually a naturalized and secularized form of covenant and the Biblical notion underlies Constitution, but people don’t think first principles. They forget where these ideas come from. You have people today talking about the death of liberalism and often they’re meaning that some of the views that came from the medieval world are no longer accepted as self-evident. We don’t ground our freedom from that sort of source. We ground it from the Scriptures. Humans are made in the image of God. The Law says among other things choose life or death, blessings or curse. Choose life. We have freedom. We’re not totally free, of course. We’re influenced genetically, historically, and we’re influenced by the generation we’re born in. A lot of influences surrounding us, but they don’t determine us finally. You can never close the circle and say we’re not free. The trouble is, and this is a Christian discussion. We’re not getting into that today, but there are certain Christians who have as low a freedom as the secularists do and that’s tragic.
Kurt: I’m curious to know, we’ve only got just a few more minutes here. If you could give a word of advice to, I know we just had the recent elections a couple weeks ago. If you had to look to 2020, what would you say to Americans about the process, the engagement of campaigning and elections?
Os: Look at the overall picture. What I would say is here in Washington, people are obsessed with the president, the Never Trumpers, the Pro Trumpers. They can’t see anything. They can’t say anything else. A great mistake. The president Donald Trump is not the cause of the crisis. He’s the consequence. His election actually gives America a four, maybe at eight years at most, breathing space in which Americans can take the chance to say who are we, where are we, and what do we need to put right? The arguments that he’s launched or launched against him become so all-consuming that people don’t think straight and all they think about is Trump[NP24] . We’ve got to pray the Lord will raise up leaders and an understanding of what the real issues and who will be the leadership that addresses these ways like Lincoln did in his time. Lincoln went to Philadelphia in 1861 on the way to being inaugurated. He literally said, “You ask me if I can hold the union together? I will try”, he said, “And if it comes out it will be my privilege and if it fails I may be assassinated.” Of course, the next time he was in Philadelphia it was as his body was carried through on his way back to Illinois. So there will be an incredible cost of anyone making a proper stand today, but I think we’ve got to pray that the Lord will open peoples’ eyes, the Lord will raise up leaders, and the Lord will use this breathing space for Americans to rethink and to go forward a better way. Otherwise, the nation’s in trouble.
Kurt: So what is America’s choice? What are the options we have moving forward?
Os: As with covenant[NP25] , the trouble with the covenant, every system has its weaknesses and its strength. The weakness of covenant is The[NP26] Lord keeps His promise. Human beings don’t. In other words, do you restore a covenant, which is restoring the human commitment and that’s what needs to happen in America today, both in the church certainly, but also in the nation. Do Americans understand the nature of freedom as their founder set it up and are they willing to assume and shoulder the responsibility for it today? In light of that, can they tackle the problems that are very clear in America today and so on? That takes leadership to point it out. I have a question to myself. Even if there were a Lincolnlike leader in our time, would it if such a call was made, would it have sufficient resonance among the American people? I sometimes go to our local mall when I need something. You watch people flowing going around the[NP27] shops with their slurpees in their hands and so on and I said to my wife, “Does the present generation really have the capacity to be the citizens that the framers assumed and required?” I think many people quite frankly don’t, but that’s the big question for me. Even if you had such a leader, would there be a resonance among the people in response? I don’t know. Only the Lord knows that.
Kurt: How about that? Os, before I let you go here. What’s the next writing project on your desk?
Os: I’ve actually just sent a very different people in to the publishers called Carpe Diem Regained which in essence is the reassertion of a biblical view of time. That’s incredibly important. I believe we’re in an Augustinian moment and we need to have a vision whether like his vision of the City of God, City of Man. We need to have a vision of the great Christian foundational truths which the church must live out if we’re to go through whatever period follows, may even be a new Dark Ages. It’s a book on time and history and the worthwhileness of doing the right thing even if you’re a tiny minority and no one else sees you’re doing it.
Kurt: Great. That’ll be interesting, and like you said something a little different and I’m sure it’ll be good. We’ll definitely have to stay in touch. Os. I want to ask you if you can stay on the phone line here. I’d like to touch base with you on something shortly after I close out the program here, that’d be great.
Os; By all means.
Kurt: Great, great. Os. Thank you for joining us on our program today. If you want to learn more about…
Os: A real privilege.
Kurt: If you want to learn more about the work, his writing and speaking, you can go to OsGuinness.com and if you are curious about that Guinness last name, there is a connection there back in Os’s history. One last time I’ll mention this. You can share the video and enter to win a copy for the Last Call for Liberty, how America’s genius for freedom has become its greatest threat. It’s definitely a book everyone should consider purchasing. We’re going to put a link on the post on our website when we embed today’s episode. A truly wonderful author, thinker, and a great Christian man as well. Os Guinness.
That does it for our show today. Next week we’re talking with Art Banford on navigating the digital age and especially for parents who might be interested in what to do with their kids. Next week you might want to tune in. That does it for the show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships that we have with our sponsors. As Chris cues that up they are Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. I want to thank our technical producer today, Chris, and our very special guest, Os Guinness, and last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
[NP1]Unclear at 5:25
[NP2]Unclear at 6:25
[NP3]Unclear at 7:15
Please login to comment