PART OF THE #Return2Reason campaign
Previously on the #Return2Reason campaign, I began with a call to a new “tahafut”-esque refutation against Secular Liberal missionaries (who refer to themselves as “reformists” to Muslims) who attempt to pervert and distort, and even reject, the understandings of the text of Islam, in order to create a religion that is compliant with Liberal theology. They do this, claiming it is “rational” despite their ideology being built on vain and patently irrational assumptions.
In this second article of the #Return2Reason campaign, I discuss a theological refutation of one of the key lynch-pin ideas of Secular Liberal missionaries, the claim that humans have a “freedom to sin” given to them by God.
THE PROTESTANT CHRISTIAN ORIGIN OF THE “FREEDOM TO SIN” ARGUMENT
‘It is our pleasure that in all places and in all cities the [Pagan] temples be henceforth closed, and access having been forbidden to all, freedom to sin be denied the wicked’
Emperor Theodosius II, Edict against non-Christians, Codex Theodosius, Rome, 438CE
It had long been accepted that no Christian government could then tolerate sin in society when done publicly, and thus all public sins were punished, and erroneous doctrines (“heresies”) were corrected (by persuasion or punishment).
For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has held that “error” and sin has no rights, and therefore there was no political right for people to express an error of doctrine or perform a sin in public.
Even during the rise of the Protestant Christians against perceived corruption by the Catholic Church (known as “The Reformation”), the leading advocates of “Reform” against the Church, Martin Luther, John Calvin and Zwingli never advocated for a secular state – in fact, quite the opposite. They all advocated for Christian laws and punishments to be implemented by the state for the personal betterment of the Christian public and protection of the morals of society. Many of the ideas of these first, and foremost, of Protestants, became adopted by Princes and Kings, who imposed Protestant teachings of their populations, persecuted Catholics and splinter (“Non-conformist”) Protestant sects.
Even Martin Luther, whose arguments for Jesus’s kingdom being inside the heart of the Christian, and not in the external world, argued that adultery should be punished by death – and even helped draft a set of principles to be adopted by German princes that would specifically not tolerate the doctrines and preachings of the Anabaptists.
However, as time went on, and Protestant’s splintered into many groups, and many persecuted Protestant minorities migrated from being persecuted by (mostly) their fellow Protestants, towards the new world. In the 13 colonies of North America, where demand for settlers was high, many non-conformist settlers (some calling themselves “pilgrims”) saw the 13 colonies as an opportunity to create their own communities and started to call against the intolerant laws and practices they had endured in their former lands (like Britain). This led to a demand for complete toleration of all denominations within Christianity – even if their fellow Christians believe their interpretations to be in error, and their choice of rituals to be “sinful” against the majority (Protestant) orthodoxy.
For a call for toleration of minority Christian beliefs and practices to be viable against the majority Protestant Christian authorities, the non-conformists knew that they need to advance arguments from the Christian Bible and theology to justify why they should be tolerated and be persuasive.
The famous early (non-conformist) Baptist, Thomas Helwys expressed:
“If the Kings people be obedient and true subjects, obeying all humane lawes made by the King, our Lord the King can require no more: for men’s religion to God is betwixt God and themselves; the King shall not answer for it, neither may the King be judge between God and man.”
‘A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity’, 1611
The call for religious liberty, once professed by a small minority, became louder after the “wars of religion” in Europe between Protestants and Catholics, as well as the English Civil war. The instability caused, led many thinkers like Hobbes and Locke to develop the idea of having regimes not based upon one religion or another in order to prevent rebellions, civil wars and insurrections occurring due to a ruler persecuting a religious sect they disagree with.
Distinguishing Believers from Hypocrites: A pragmatic argument for allowing a “Freedom to Sin”
It was argued by Thomas Hobbes, the grandfather of modern Western political philosophy and arguably the father of modern Secularism, that granting people the freedom to do as they pleased and choose freely their own interpretation of Christian teachings – meant that people would worship God out of sincerity, and believe in truth out of conviction, not compulsion or social pressure. It was argued that this would eradicate hypocrisy and lead to a community where people would be able to distinguish sincere believers from non-religious ones. However, the problem with Hobbes’ assumptions is that he believed sincerity and hypocrisy was caused by the state and its laws, while in reality, sincerity and hypocrisy depend on the conscience of individual human beings. The argument was faulty because as long as any society advocated morals and principles there would always exist hypocrites who would pretend to follow it in public for self-gain (or avoiding social censure). Critically, Hobbes’ argument failed to account for the fact that sincere humans do not exist as an island from the rest of society, and even well intentioned people may be negatively influenced by hypocrites openly tempting the sincere to do bad things, a fact the Quran mentions:
‘They [the Hypocrites] wish that you reject (Faith), and thus that you all become equal (like them). So, take not Auliya [protectors or friends] from them’ [Quran 4:89]
It’s interesting to note, that whenever equality is mentioned in the Quran, it is usually in a negative context. Hobbes also mentions others arguments, but a detailed refutation of them and his “argument for the freedom of hypocrisy, can be read elsewhere.
Thinkers like Locke, building on the theology (but not politics) of Luther, then argued that because Jesus has already died for the sin of those who believed in him (i.e. Christians), the only test that remained is whether Christians truly believe in Jesus or not (this was, according to him, observable in whether or not Christians behaved righteously or not). Therefore, Locke argued, a Christian cannot be improved by state laws or punishments, because even if they conformed to the law, they would only do so out of fear of it, and not sincerely – which would be useless. Furthermore, Locke argued that the sin of one Christian doesn’t affect the righteousness of another Christian, and therefore Locke argued that a Christian should be permitted to sin – unless that sin involves violence or interfering with the rights of other Christians.
“To [God] alone belongs the punishment of the erroneous”
A Second Letter Concerning Toleration
“The care of the salvation of men’s souls cannot belong to the magistrate; because though the rigour of law and the force of penalties were capable to convince and change men’s minds, yet would not that help at all to the salvation of their souls”.
A Letter Concerning Toleration
Initially, thinkers like John Locke only intended toleration to be only amongst Protestants, not Catholics, Muslims or Atheists. Practically though, Locke allowed other religions to be tolerated (but not Atheists, as his work on the Constitution of Carolina, held statutes that required a minimum belief in a God for a citizen to be tolerated).
The key mistake of Locke’s thinking here was two-fold. Firstly, the idea that Jesus (A.S.) has died for the sins of those who believe in him, and therefore the law (of Moses) is redundant, is a specifically built upon a disputed interpretation of Christian doctrine that cannot be made universal to other religions and theologies who don’t possess something similar to that.
Secondly, and most importantly, is that Locke had made a key mistake by conflating two different concepts: freedom to have different sincerely held interpretations within a religion, and “freedom” to blatantly contradict one’s own beliefs and principles by breaking its laws (i.e. the normal understanding of sinful actions). People may be genuinely convinced that a different interpretation of the Bible is valid – but a Christian who, for example, indulges in adultery is doing so knowing they are going against their Christianity. Locke’s mistake (or perhaps, the mistake of those who read Locke), was not separating a “freedom of conscience” as a different category to a “freedom to sin” (in public).
Interestingly, Locke was actually unclear about laws protecting public morality by banning brothels and prostitution. It could be that Locke, who lived in a Christian majority society with regular laws that prohibited “public lewdness” and adultery (though not punished as Martin Luther would’ve liked) – never imagined that his arguments would be used to justify legalising public lewdness, drunkenness etc (something that I may pick up another time perhaps).
Locke’s “Natural Rights” argument for Freedom: When Materialism Begun Competing Against the bible
Up till now, Christian political thought had been based primarily on scriptural and pragmatic arguments to allow toleration of different interpretations, sects and ritual practices in Christianity (as well as the possibility of tolerating other theist religions).
However, the arguments for pragmatic toleration and arguments based upon Christian scripture faced many challenges. Some (Western) Christian nations felt no pragmatic need to tolerate different sects – others were content to tolerate people but insisted they keep their practices outside of the public view in order to protect the majority rituals and interpretations dominant. Other Christians disputed with non-conformists and others, using counter verses in the Bible to argue against toleration of other denominations of Christians or their divergent practices. Eventually, Christians like Spinoza, Hobbes (both suspected of hidden Atheism) and Locke found an alternative argument they could be sure could bypass Christian scripture and convince people independently, the argument for individualism and freedom, from the basis of “Natural Law”.
The idea of a “natural law” in the universe isn’t new, and many thinkers, from Ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese and Catholic believed that God ordered the universe through laws He ordains. However what was new, was the attempt to impute to God’s natural law (without any authority), that humans are born into a natural state of being “free” from all other humans, in every way possible, and that that freedom was intended to be so.
Although Hugo Grotius, Spinoza and Hobbes were among the first in the late pre-modern era to use claims from a law of nature to justify humans as being absolutely free and completely sovereign over themselves, John Locke, a devout Christian, was the most prominent person to popularise the concept to the point of wide acceptance. John Locke argued that since God created the universe, all observable laws of nature were by His will and intended to be that way. For this premise, he then made a leap and asserted based upon an assumed thought experiment (i.e. not based upon science or an empirical observation), that humans started out not being in society and were originally “free” from social constraints. However, due to the chaos and dispute that occur between free individuals, they formed societies to protect themselves and protect their property – thus was justified the idea of humans being fundamentally individuals in their original state, who being without restraint, had a natural and therefore divine “right” to freedom.
‘To understand political power aright, and derive it from its original, we must consider what estate all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man.
A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another, there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjection’
Chapter: Of the state of nature, Second Treatise on Government
John Locke also asserts that humans are absolute lords (and sovereigns) of their own selves:
‘Man in the state of Nature…be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest and subject to nobody, all being kings as much as he, every man his equal’
Second Treatise on Government
This started the beginning of what we call today “Political Liberalism”, the first premise of which being, that what an individual is fully sovereign over themselves, and they possess a right to freedom in all actions – limited only by the equal right of other individuals to do the same.
Locke’s argument essentially argued (by way of the assumption) that God has revealed his will via ‘natural law’ to give humans a Freedom to act completely if it does not impinge upon another’s freedom.
This means that Locke unwittingly justified via materialist arguments, that humans then have the freedom to sin in sins that do not limit the “freedom” of others (e.g. harming them, robing their property or violating other people without their willing invitation (i.e. consent).
While John Locke did caveat in his arguments that while humans are intended to be sovereign over themselves, God is still the supreme sovereign and owns and possesses humans. Although this contradicts the Bible’s teachings (that mankind are servants of God) Locke did not realise that by claiming God made mankind free and sovereign over himself in nature, but dominated and subservient to God in the Bible, Locke unintentionally depicted God contradicting himself.
The argument that humans had a divinely given “natural right” to complete freedom and absolute supremacy over themselves, would ultimately lead to the development of Christian theology built to try to reconcile the contradictions and try to cater for liberal ethics and morality, called “liberal theology”, which led to a subsequent theological argument of the “freedom to sin”.
HOW THE FREEDOM TO SIN ARGUMENT LEADS TO ATHEISM / AGNOSTICISM
Despite liberal (Protestant) Christians attempts at reinterpretation, the problem of the contradiction between liberal morality as divine Natural Law, and the teachings in the Bible caused them a lot of consternation. One such problem was what was called ‘the problem of evil’. Over time many of them reasoned if humans were made by God to have the same equal rights and freedom to sin, but in this world, some humans die young, some have disabilities, many suffer, and none have complete freedom to do as they wish. Because Locke defined criminality as when someone punishes another for other than retribution and retaliation for personal injury done to them, the question was raised: “if humans can’t hurt God by doing personal sins (or any kind of sins), why and how could God justly punish them?”. Furthermore, it was questioned: “if God created the world, why didn’t he make it free from suffering?” they thought, “because how is God putting intentional suffering in the universe, and inflicting it upon people, not unlike doing an unjust injury to them?”.
Further, Western thinkers anguished over the question that, “if God has given humans a freedom to sin, and therefore an implied right to sin, how can God then punish humans for exercising their rights?” And “how can God be Just for creating hell?” – See my response to this (Is Hell Just).
Likewise, many liberals asked: “if God threatens to punish humans for disobeying him, how can humans ever be said to be “free””?
It was this clash between Christian Biblical texts and teachings, and the liberal ethics and morality (of individual self-supremacy and soveriegnty) that was behind liberal laws and legal systems, that led many to inevitably question their religion (Christianity). Of those who doubted their Christianity, it was because they could see no alternative religion that could ever answer the “problem of evil” in a world/universe, where liberal ethics are the highest values, that they believed no God could exist – for if God did exist, he “surely” would be liberal, and then there would be no “evil”, but because there is evil, they assumed he didn’t exist (or didn’t care).
Therefore many went down the path of Atheism, deism or apathetic Agnosticism.
Amazingly, the 17th-century political theorist, Sir Robert Filmer, who was a contemporary and opponent of Locke, predicted the inevitable direction of Locke’s ideas two hundred years before Western society fully manifested the result.
‘There are too many in these days who please themselves in running after the opinions of philosophers and poets, to find out such an original of government as might promise them some title to liberty, to the great scandal of Christianity and bringing in of atheism. Since a natural freedom of mankind cannot be supposed without the denial of the creation of Adam [i.e. as a servant of God, and not of Himself]’
Patriarcha, Sir Robert Filmer, 1680
Of course, not all Christians became Atheists, deists, agnostics or irreligious, at least not immediately. Over the course of the subsequent debates between mainstream Biblical interpretation and liberal ethics and morality, two Christian “schools” arose in response – those who accepted secular liberalism but kept Christian doctrines and ignored the contradictions i.e. “conservative” Christians, and those who attempted a syncretic approach and adopt a theology that was consistent with liberal ethics – Liberal Christians. The theology of Liberal Christians gradually became to be called “Liberal Theology”.
Liberalism Assimilates Christianity – The Birth of ‘Liberal Theology’
‘Freedom to sin, is and remains nevertheless a divine gift. Even in evil, the divine and human nature are not totally alienated’
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Vol. I. (1827)
‘Respecting the other’s freedom to commit the worst sin out of love for the sinner-murderer. Which is what Jesus did…the dialectic of God’s love, which sought to save man by respecting his freedom to sin so far as to die at his hands’
J.H.Yoder, preface to Theology, Christology and Theological Method (1982)
During the 19th century, as many Catholic and Protestant regimes with established churches began to succumb to Political Liberalism, the populace of many Western nations began adopting political liberalism and its legal ethics, believing it to be (as presented to them) a “neutral” and “objective” way to run governments without resorting to interpretations of religious scripture. However, the many inherent contradictions between the legal ethics (and morality) behind the claim of “divine Natural law” for individual freedom, and the stories of God’s actions and the revealed injunctions of Mosaic law in the Bible, led many Protestant Christian theologians began to reexamine their interpretations of scripture and attempt to reconcile the contradictions between mainstream Christian thought and the consequences of the “natural law” argument for individual freedom.
Many problematic questions were raised: If God made humans to be naturally free, then why does the Bible show them being punished for their sins in their life, even if it didn’t involve violence or rape?
If God made humans independent, and crime is defined as transgressing against someone who didn’t harm you, why does God punish people merely for committing sins that could never harm God in the slightest?
If God made humans to have the freedom to sin, why does he punish them at all? One cannot have freedom if there will be punishment, and one cannot give someone freedom only to punish them for using it.
In response to these problems, Protestant Christians adopted one of two courses, one group, sometimes pejoratively called “fundamentalists” by Liberals, would stick to the Bible unapologetically and adhere to the apparent meaning of its texts dogmatically.
The other group of Protestant Christians would re-interpret the Bible, claiming that many stories are not meant to be actual events, but figurative tales – even if the text reads like a historical account. This second group of Christians would go on to remove a literal belief in hell, and even argue that there are multiple paths to God, even in other religions – even if their doctrines are diametrically opposed to clear Bible verses rejecting stone idols and multiple gods, like hindu polytheism. This second group would be called “Liberal Christians” and their method of adapting their religion to liberal ethics, called “Liberal theology”.
Unfortunately, in liberal societies in Europe and parts of the USA, Dogmatic Christians could not offer a viable alternative political system upon a morality consistent with the Bible, nor provide a successfully accepted counter-argument to premises and assumptions behind liberalism. The other group, liberal Christians, ultimately could not explain why the Bible needs so much mental gymnastics and reinterpretation from the clear meanings of the text, in order to find the “true” meaning that happens to coincide with modern (liberal) sensibilities.
Ultimately, both strategies were unsuccessful in preventing many Christians leaving Christianity or becoming non-religious identity-only Christians.
THE “FREEDOM TO SIN” ARGUMENT: SUMMARISED
The Secular liberal argument for the “freedom to sin” is built upon the following premises:
1. God gave humans freedom, which is the ability to choose to sin or not in worldly life
2. God only judges and punishes humans in the afterlife
3. Therefore, humans have the freedom (including to sin) in this worldly life
Once the liberal has presented their case for a theological “freedom to sin”, they then proceed to discuss how this translates into political rights (i.e. rules humans must obey in their conduct with other humans).
4. What God wills and wants, establishes the basis for rights
5. God’s wills and wants humans to have the “freedom to sin”
6. Therefore, humans have a right to sin.
While this argument asserts humanity has had freedom in action (including sins), Locke argued a clear caveat, stated in simple formula here:
While humans have freedom to act (and sin) as they wish, they are not allowed to harm, rob or otherwise deny another’s “freedom”, because that is stopping another from acting (and sinning) as they wish (and therefore denying their right to freedom). So, the argument caveats, humans should be allowed to act (including sin) where it doesn’t violate another’s freedom.
This liberal argument shows the limitations of logic to be clear, and how it is prone hidden assumptions, unwarranted jumps and fallacious premises.
The Problems with the Construction of the Freedom to Sin Argument
- The argument conflates the final punishment in the hereafter with all punishment that God could choose to inflict. Just because God punishes in the hereafter, does not mean God doesn’t punish in this life too (albeit a smaller punishment). The reasons for this could be a warning, or to be an example to others – or simply to end the person (or society’s) time on the earth and bring them to final judgement.
- The argument conflates the divine judgement of sin with human judging of people’s public actions. God’s sole judgment, doesn’t mean humans can’t judge the public actions of others. If God gives a law or command (a judgment) to humans to police themselves according to his (judged) rules, then humans can judge others, while God remains the sole judge. The fact that only God can judge sinners destinations in the afterlife, doesn’t mean Humans can’t judge (recognise) sinful actions done publicly in this life. It only means that humans can’t judge by their own vacuous opinions and must judge by God’s judgment (which still fulfils the criteria of God being the sole judgment).
- The argument conflating an opportunity to sin with the freedom to sin. Just because people may be tested and be given an opportunity to sin, doesn’t mean they have the right or freedom. This is absurd as arguing that people in a country have the freedom to commit crime because someone can commit a murder and walk freely for the duration of time it takes for the police to arrive! Or alternatively, if the Police are observing a drug deal or theft, and not arresting the criminals on just conspiracy to commit a crime, but also let the deal or theft takes place in order to capture the criminals in the act (and increase their subsequent punishment) – would anyone of sound mind argue that the police were only hesitating to arrest the criminals because the criminals had “freedom to commit the crime”? No.
- The argument generalises all sins as being of the same type. Whereas there is a difference between private sin and public sin, a private sin may cause no further consequence except to the individual, but a public sin may cause a social pressure and normalisation of the sin – spreading it in society. It is certainly the case that liberals still want to prohibit the sins of murder, rape and theft, even though they too are sins as well.
The Irrationality of the “Natural Law” Argument for Human Freedom
The first and most prominent problem with the natural law theories of Locke (Hobbes, Grotius and Spinoza), was that they could not prove how Humans have any kind of “natural rights” from observing the natural world, nor could they show how these could be deduced from an unobservable “State of nature” before societies, tribes and families!
These Western thinkers conducted no experiments but – despite all this, many people adopted their core arguments, because the language they presented them to the readers seemed to be “scientific”.
If we accept the argument that God made all humans equal and with the freedom to sin, and we just considered the question from what we could see in the natural world of all humans, we’d have no basis to argue that humans had the freedom to do as they please.
Humans who exist in societies, live under hierarchies and group rules that they can’t control, and that restrict their activities – therefore the God of this universe clearly didn’t make humans “free”, he just made us (or some of us) have some power (but clearly not to an equal degree).
For those humans considered the “freest” who live as nomads or hermits outside society, not everyone can live like that or survive, and even the strongest humans may have to depend on human society to build their technology, look after them when they’re sick, and even if they didn’t need anyone, they’d be limited by the flora (and most importantly fauna!) of the natural world that can sicken, hurt and even kill them. So from a natural theology perspective, humans aren’t free, nor are they equal.
It is this fundamental observation that debunks the claims to natural law, natural rights and certainly any claim for “human freedom”. To use an example I commonly employ, the universe doesn’t seem to care about people’s rights, if a man was stuck on a desert island with lions, tigers and bears, none of them would think twice about the humans “right to freedom” and “right to life” before turning them into a tasty meal.
The Irrationality of the Freedom to Sin Argument
In finality, even if we accept the assumptions of the ‘Freedom to Sin’ argument, the limits that liberals impose of societies they construct from this argument possess irrational contradictions with the principles of the argument itself. For example, if people have the divinely-given freedom to sin, why does that not include the freedom to do all kinds of sins like transgress against others?
Transgressing against others does not limit their freedom to sin if the transgressions are not restricting people from sinning. So for example, physically bullying people, doesn’t mean that the victims of the bullying can’t bully others, or eat forbidden foods or narcotics. But if we argue that allowing people to transgress against others, limits their freedom, (though philosophically, that’s impossible), the question must be asked “isn’t telling people not to transgress against others, a limit to their freedom also?”.
Freedom is still limited (and not absolute) in even a liberal society with laws and police. If it is argued that a government is necessary so that people all have the same equal rights to freedom, then anarchy will still be superior because it can offer everyone the exact same right to do as they want without having to care about the police or state.
If it is argued by liberals “why do you think anarchy is the place of maximum freedom?” – the liberal questioner should be reminded that Locke got is very idea of “natural rights” from a imaginative thought that before society humans were “Free” in an Anarchy. Anarchy is the basis for the very philosophical foundations of “freedom” and “natural rights”. Let’s not let liberals inspired by Locke forget that.
If it is argued that anarchy would allow people to kill each other, which is wrong, then they have to explain why it is wrong, considering that the act of murder is a sin, and the argument of liberal theology is that humans have the freedom to sin. Furthermore, it could be argued “how can people ever attain virtue by the refrain from doing murder out of conscience, if the only reason that keeps them from doing so in a liberal state is fear of the punishment by the government?
If it is argued that murder is wrong because “humans are the property of God and god has rights over his property that cannot be abused by anyone”, then where does the “freedom to sin” come from? For if someone commits a private sin, saying drinking Alcohol, or taking other forms of narcotics, why then could it not be equally argued that they should be prevented from doing so by the state (like the state would try to prevent murderers from committing crime), because the human being belongs to God, and is not allowed to defile someone else’s (i.e. God’s) property?
It could be argued that of what use is it to someone who comes on the day of judgement having committed no murder, rape or theft if that person only refrained from doing so out of fear of the law? Would liberals not be able to equally argue, against themselves, that only without government can people be truly tested in their sincerity, goodness and virtue?
Furthermore, in an anarchy, people would most likely form into tribes or collectives for mutual defence anyways, so what purpose is a government then? If the purpose of a government is to establish consistent property relations and retaliation between people (i.e. justice), then how will humans be judged on whether or not they chose to be just by themselves and according to their own independent mind, if they are forced to conform to justice by a imposing government with its threat of force?
If it is argued that an anarchy is wrong because people could deny God’s will by killing people – could it not be argued in response that: since nothing can happen without God’s will, any murder that does happen in an anarchy is what God willed too, and when He decreed a person’s life term had come to an end?
If it is argued that an individual who harms another, is a different type of sin to a sin done against God (by disobeying Him e.g. making stone idols) – it has to be shown how the “freedom to sin” clause doesn’t apply also to harming others, since God will punish both types of sin on the day of judgement. Furthermore since God certainly has permitted (i.e. allowed to happen) many people to disobey Him throughout history, as well as allowed people to commit heinous atrocities – the liberal has to explain why the “freedom” of human action must suddenly be stopped (by creating a government authority) at physical harm.
Therefore, the liberal insistence that “individuals should be free to sin…” (anyway they please) then add: “…but not if that sin involves physical harm to others”, is an arbitrary limit that can’t be justified by liberal’s own arguments.
Sure, a liberal may argue that it would be preferable to their tastes to live in a society that protects people from physical harm – but the point here (of this entire article) is that this isn’t an argument made upon a claim of a “freedom to sin”.
The secular liberal theist’s answer to these contentions could likely be:
- Establishing justice is itself worship of God and required by him – so government is required to en-force it.
- People are to be protected from each other because God ordained everyone belongs to God and has rights given to them by God
- Government is a mercy from God, and should be established so society might have order and correct treatment between people as worship to God. The government acts a mercy by preventing people from imposing excessive trials and tribulations upon each other (like theft and murder), which would help free them from living in a state of stress, anxiety and the temptation to respond in like manner (in retaliation) and succumb to sins they want to avoid
The irony of the problem with this response by liberals, is that the exact same arguments could be levelled back against liberals, justifying laws that prevent public sinning.
Here is how a non-liberal, religious argument could equally argue:
It could be argued that people committing public sins, showing revealing clothing that is provocative (inciting first-stage sexual arousal in others passing by – which is automatic trigger mechanism outside their control), and pressuring people to take drugs (like alcohol, let’s not forget, the world’s most lethal drug in terms of death tolls), are public sins that affect other people – and therefore, it could be argued that people have a right to be protected from these actions being imposed by individuals over others, in the public arena.
Ironically, liberals have no argument as to why things like highly addictive drugs should be disallowed from being sold and advertised by drug “pushers” if their clients are willing to buy it consensually. In fact, the first form of liberal, libertarians, argue this (and do so to this day), yet the modern liberal simply has no argument for drugs to be an exception to the “freedom to sin” (if no non-consensual harm is caused) argument.
It could be argued that in order to maintain public morality, order and public civility – which are all circumstances that are a worship of God, it is necessary to – as a mercy – prevent trials and tribulations that tempt people to do sins (at least in public).
It also could be argued that this would take away people’s chance to be sincere believers, because it would actually leave the sincere individual to be free to choose to be righteous in private, and be a mercy for sincere believers in protecting them from having to face a day to day battle against the social pressure of normalised public sins becoming culture – that pressures them to “slip”, despite their sincere desire to be constant in maintaining righteousness.
It could be argued that under a government based upon theology, the insincere individual, the secret hypocrite, would not be deprived of the “freedom” (i.e. opportunity) to sin when in private (or in aspects of the public space not regulated by the government, like general manners). The ability to sin in private would not be affected by preventing the hypocrite from sinning publicly and forcing them to conform to public standards of righteousness. This allows them to still reveal their true colours (upon which they can used in evidence by God, who knows all the hidden actions of a person, on the day of judgment) to be judged a unrepentant sinner (or even rejector of truth, if they were not truly sincere in belief), without disturbing society or imposing a trial and tribulation upon fallible, but sincere, true believers in public arena.
A note on those who argue for a “Freedom to Sin”
Those who argue the “freedom to sin” do so from different positions, and therefore use slightly different arguments.
Atheists, Agnostics and “irreligious” (i.e. identify with religion by name only) people tend to argue for a “freedom to sin” by using materialist arguments, like Locke’s use of “natural law” (although currently, natural law arguments are viewed as deficient compared to utilitarianism – which because it doesn’t care about “sin” but rather maximising pleasure (or “utility”) was left out from this discussion, and will be addressed another time).
Liberal Christians tend to use what is traditionally called “Liberal Theology” (or “Liberal Christianity”).
Note on names – the general category for theologies/religions that have been constructed to be completely consistent with the ethics behind secular liberalism is called religious liberalism (or “Theological liberalism”) – not to be confused with the political form of liberalism, secular liberalism (alternatively called “Political liberalism”). For example, the Christian version of religious liberalism is (currently) called “Liberal Theology” or “Liberal Christianity”.
Those Liberals who follow different religions use a variation of the general model of what Liberal Christians established, which they have superimposed upon non-Christian religions. One example of the theologies created by the Liberal assimilation of another Abrahamic religion is “Reform Judaism” (or “Liberal Judaism” or “Progressive Judaism”).
Individuals from Muslim backgrounds who adopt secular liberalism tend to call themselves “secular Muslims” (most Muslim regimes are of this type), while people who call themselves Muslims, believe in secular Liberal and in addition, hold a Liberal theology tend to call themselves “Liberal Muslims” or “Progressive Muslims (though because Western governments want secular, Liberal “Muslims” to become accepted as the mainstream, in their public discourses they strategically call such individuals “Moderate Muslims”).
The “Freedom to Sin” argument was first “prominently” introduced into Muslim literature circles in 1991, by Abdul Wahhab el Effendi in his book “Who Needs An Islamic State?” where he wrote “the search for an Islamic state must start with the search for freedom for Muslims. Freedom to think, to act, to sin…”
In part two, I will present an Islamic argument from the Quran and Sunnah demonstrating how Islam responds to the argument of the “freedom to Sin” – a response showing that this is not the first time the author of the Quran has dealt with such an argument.