Western societies today are freer than they’ve ever been, but also more divided. And it seems increasingly difficult to get people with different beliefs to come to any kind of compromise. Meanwhile depression, anxiety, and fear are all on the rise. So what’s going wrong? According to one Professor, it’s all about freedom.
Dr Gordon Menzies is an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney, with an Oxford PHD and an international reputation. Talking to Neil Johnson on Vision’s 20Twenty, he used the metaphor of a car that isn’t driving well. “One thing you can do is just rev it harder and hope you’ll get to where you’re going. But the other thing you can do is stop it, open up the bonnet, and have a look at what’s underneath.”
“Now I think in a lot of conversations that people have these days, there’s a lot of anger and argumentative about particular issues, but sometimes, the people would be well-served to think a bit deeper about what the underlying beliefs are of the two people having a conversation.”
Usually, when we think of a fundamentalist, we think of someone who is radical in their dedication to a religion. We might think for example of extremists and terrorists, even though very few of history’s deadliest conflicts were inspired by religion. But Menzies says everyone has beliefs that they don’t question, even if they can’t be proven.
When he was a member of Oxford’s debating club, Menzies often found the arguments were about pragmatic realities, such as “what is the law”, or “what the UN said” about a particular subject. He asked the Club’s leader why the discussions didn’t go any deeper.
“The reason the debates are superficial,” his coach explained, “is because everyone comes here with an uncritical belief in democracy, free market liberalism, and sexual freedom. And because people never question those things, or never talk about the pros and cons of those things, they have superficial views about everything else.”
Menzies says these non-religious fundamental beliefs stem from the way we think about freedom in the West. “Democracy is about freedom from dictators. Free market liberalism is about the government not making arbitrary changes to how you do trade and commercial interactions with others. And sexual freedom is about the freedom people have about choosing their sexual partners.”
I think that in the West today, most people think of freedom as freedom from every possible constraint, so they can do whatever they like, and as some people put this term, self-actualize, make themselves into whatever they want to create.”
But the Bible describes freedom in a vastly different way. In John 8:34-36, Jesus says “whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed”.
Menzies explains that freedom from sin gives us the freedom for much greater things, and that’s what Jesus’ sacrifice assured for us. “We’re adopted into God’s loving family. We’re offered a seat at His table. And He tells us the right way to live. And it’s a way of blessing and flourishing.”
“I think the West has got both its freedom from wrong and it’s freedom for wrong. Freedom from is not freedom from sin, it’s freedom from all restraints. And freedom for? Well, you make that up yourself.”
Listen to the podcast below for much more about Western fundamentalism, the dangerous side-effects of pursuing freedom at all costs, and the only real way to find happiness in life – using your freedom for God’s purposes.
Tune into 20Twenty and join the conversation with Neil Johnson, weekdays on Vision Christian Radio. Click here for your local times.