And yet time is the ultimate intangible. One twentieth-century writer expressed it as the artifice of eternity. But time is the pool that we swim in, and as you read this issue of Liberty our entire world is surging on a wave of time into the "great expectation."
Hardened in the fires of late-twentieth-century reality, we are not easily subject to Panglossian self-delusion. This is demonstrably not "the best of all possible worlds." But it is demonstrably our world. And it is remarkable how single-minded humankind is about realizing the fulfillment of any number of disparate aspirations in this new millennium.
Not too many years ago, then-president George Bush mystified many and angered some by referring to "a new world order." And there is no question that in the twilight years of the twentieth century it occurred to many intelligent people that we are indeed a world community, and that the fate of other nations and other peoples is inextricably connected to each of us. And while they may not be wearing the jackboots of the one-world government feared by conspiracy buffs, the United Nations and other coalition troops are indeed busily occupied in several places right now--imposing a world vision on local sovereignty.
But to my eyes, so much of the globalism of the U.N., the United States, and other major powers is actually reactionary and of a stopgap nature. We see desperate measures to thwart apocalypse now. And rather than a siren call from the years ahead our leaders are hearing instead the "ancestral voices prophesying war."
This is not the ideal climate for continued personal freedoms.
And will our neighborhoods look any different in these early days of a new era? Probably not! Certainly many yearn for the community spirit of a perhaps mythical yesteryear. Many desperately desire a gun-free, drug-free, crime-free society; and while we have been told that crime figures are down, the waning days of 1999 were replete with stories of school shootings, workplace killings, drug/gang turf wars, and a wide array of personal bestiality and "uncivilized" behavior.
The debate over gun ownership laws and what, if any, balance should be struck between personal freedom and the security needs of the community will no doubt intensify in the days ahead.
Not a good climate for continued personal liberties.
No doubt this next millennium will continue the debate between scientists and activists of various persuasions as to whether there is indeed a climate shift. Without conceding that argument either way, if 1999 is any indication, this year and the years beyond will see as many or more examples of nature run amok. Hurricane Floyd may have spared most of the East Coast from cataclysm, but its immense size and the mathematic certainty of other similar storms tell us to be prepared sooner rather than later. And whether caused by global warming or nature's caprice, the increasing pattern of drought, flood, storm, and earthquake seems certain to continue. A time of plenty on this continent has obscured what those in sub-Saharan Africa know all too well--crippling drought and other natural disasters can destroy the very fabric of civilization and reduce humans to creatures mewing thinly for any scrap of sustenance. Certainly FEMA and other organizations stand poised to intervene massively during upcoming disasters. Disasters that increasingly may disrupt every aspect of our national security.
Not a good climate for continued personal freedoms.
Worldwide, the past few decades have seen a quantum leap in the activities of religious fundamentalists. The Middle East has been convulsed several times by events stirred up by radical Islamic fundamentalism. Perhaps we in North America have become somewhat insensitive to the potential for global disruption that this implies. But surely we cannot ignore the fact that a similar pattern of fundamentalism from quite a number of belief systems is a destabilizing dynamic around the globe and even perhaps within this continent.
We have noticed that most of the international conflicts of late have had a distinctively religious/sectarian nature. Often the very conflict itself is fueled by religious difference and intolerance--even if it passes for an ethnic concern. And while great steps have been made to provide equality for all ethnic and religious groups here in North America--in particular the United States, much of the tension in our society comes from "radical" pseudoreligious groups.
Not a good climate for continued religious and other personal liberties.
Picking up on a biblical theme for this new millennium, the pope of Rome has embarked on an ambitious jubilee initiative, which includes a series of masses and other public events in the Middle East. Liberty can only applaud this public statement of faith and optimism for a faith-based solution to many of mankind's perplexities. But this too, while awakening a millennial fervor for faith, may actually morph into a global fundamentalism that frowns on practices and beliefs out of sync with those of the majority.
Not a good climate for continued religious freedoms if pursued unthinkingly.
Almost 2,000 years ago a carpenter's Son, barely of an age to be taken seriously by the elders in His community, stood up in the synagogue in Nazareth and read aloud from the prophet Isaiah. His message was one of jubilee--of a revolutionary application of Old Testament biblical principles to His own day. He proclaimed "liberty" and "release" for the captives of a system increasingly unable to provide this need.
In this new millennium we desperately need a return to the principles of true liberty and religious fulfillment.
One of the visionaries of the twentieth century was undeniably Mahatma Gandhi. His dream of the modern state of India both directly led to that state and indirectly through its incompleteness to his disillusionment. Stanley Jones, author of Christ at the Round Table, wrote of sitting on the floor of Gandhi's little one-room apartment one night and discussing with him what religion meant to him and what it could accomplish in a life. The great man said this: "The more I empty myself, the more I can discover God. But no miracles are to be expected, and it may take ages." Jones was privately shocked at this dark vision. "If that is the final answer," he wrote, "then some of us will have to be left out of God and redemption. For we need Him desperately now, and we know that if we are to be saved, a miracle must be preformed."
Liberty magazine operates on the foundational premise that religious liberty--indeed, all true liberty--derives from a knowledge of God. A God who created us as free moral agents--free to weigh evidence and consequences and make rational choices.
God has not compelled us to choose to follow Him, or even acknowledge Him. And no more does He authorize us to compel others to choose His way.
What is certain is that as humanity moves into this new millennium--this construct of time--we are in desperate need of the most basic things. We do need a personal morality writ large throughout society. We do need a care for our fellow humankind that translates into kindness, consideration, and yes, even a philanthropic vision of other nations. And we so desperately need respect for the faith journey of our fellows that will not only allow but formalize in law their right to think and act on those convictions.
Viewed against the social and physical reality of our world, it's possible to characterize religious liberty as an artifice. It is an artifice, first of all, in the sense that it is of necessity a pale shadow of the absolute liberty that God intended and will one day re-create in a world beyond this. But in an immediate sense it must be an artifice consciously constructed to protect the most fragile part of our existence--which we call civilization. Without it this journey into whatever times lie ahead will come to chaos only.
We need religious liberty now. We need it desperately. Not just in law, but in the spirit of universal brotherhood worthy of a millennial journey. Time may be our own artifice, but in constructing its meaning for our journey we need to protect the timeless.
Lincoln E. Steed
Article Author: Lincoln E. Steed
Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."