Was Christianity the foundation of "liberty?"
Will you give me evidence on whether “Christianity is the foundation of
I will need to guess what the person from whom you are quoting is trying
to claim. I am going to guess that this person is saying that the
indirect influence of Christianity on human culture and means of
government is the principle causitive factor which led to the ideas of
personal liberty and democracy which were created in Europe in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
My first response to this claim is that there is a fairly large grain of
truth in it. Although this statement has some truth in it, I believe it
could be a somewhat misleading statement, depending on how it is used.
Let me explain myself. To do this, we will have to look at the genesis of
the idea of freedom and liberty in Western Europe. Such ideas were
developed by philosophers such as John Locke, Jean Jacque Rousseau and
others in the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. They were
made into reality largely by the framers of the US Constitution, but also
by the influence of the French Revolution and other forces in Europe.
Consider the famous statement in the US Declaration of Independence, “We
hold these truths to be self-evident, all men were created equal.” This
is a basic statement of the nature of liberty. Where did this statement
come from? It was a basic tenet of the Enlightenment, which was the most
influential intellectual movement in Western Europe from about AD
1680-1770 or so. John Locke himself would say that he got the idea of
liberty from Christian principles. I believe it would be fair to say that
the idea of liberty was born in a basically Christian culture and that
this is not a coincidence. The Renaissance and the Reformation were a
time of a return to the idea of the importance of the individual and of a
personal relationship with God. Of course, the emphasis on a personal
relationship with God is biblical. The idea of individual dignity and the
importance of individual responsibility and decision to do what is right
is a very Christian thought. “Liberty” would not have been born in a
Hindu, a Confucianist or a Buddhist culture. It certainly would not have
arisen in an Islamic culture. So I agree with the idea that liberty was
born because of Christianity.
Having said that, I think that to say that Christianity is the foundation
of liberty might be a bit of an overstatement. Personal liberty is not a
goal of Christianity per se. Personal freedom and individual rights are
not really an emphasis of Jesus. I believe the idea of dignity and of
treating one another with humility and respect, which are very much
Christian are the kind of place from which the idea of liberty can
naturally evolve, but I believe Christianity is compatible with other
political systems. In fact, one could argue that the idea of benevolant
dictatorship was a “Christian” creation. The European version of this
idea was called “the divine right of kings.” This philosophy was current
during the same period that the idea of liberty was being developed. Many
Christians believed that monarchy was the best political system for a
“Christian” society. Personally, I do not agree with this idea. However,
to present “liberty” as a Christian creation is probably a bit too
strong. Anyone making this claim should probably qualify the statement if
he or she is being a careful communicator.
In summary, one can say accurately that the idea of liberty was born in a
culture which was influenced by Christianity. One could argue that
Christianity is the only world religion which would logically produce the
political idea of human liberty. However, to say that liberty is a
Christian teaching or that it is the only logical political system which
could be produced under Christian influence would be to overstate the case.