Commentary

 

Free speech. Free thought. Free religion.

     

By New Christian Bible Study Staff

Sunrise over a field of grain.

Freedom of speech. Freedom of thought. Freedom of religion. They're important. They're in the news. How do they relate to Christianity? Let's start thinking through it.

What does the Bible have to say about them?

Take John the Baptist as an example. He was the essential free speaker, the "voice of one, crying in the wilderness", preparing the way for God. He spoke freely, declaring a new, living religion. But then Herod stepped in, captured him, imprisoned him, and killed him. John (I have something I must speak freely about) is the good guy; Herod (I don't like your speech) is the bad guy.

In Daniel 6:7-23, there's the famous story of Daniel and the Lions' Den. Daniel was cast to the lions because he was speaking freely -- praying to Jehovah, not to King Darius -- against an edict of the government. Daniel's the good guy. Darius, until he repents, is the bad guy.

Perhaps the most powerful Biblical example is found throughout Jesus's ministry, which required freedom of speech -- the freedom to form, teach, and create a new religion. His free speech revolutionized the thoughts of his listeners. And, what did the powerful religious leaders of the day do? They accused him of blaspheming. They tried to trap him. To get him to recant. To be quiet. He knew that he couldn't do that; His mission was to bring new truths to a thirsty world.

There's a great "free speech" scene during Jesus's entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, in Luke 19:37-40:

"And when He was already near to the descent of the Mount of Olives, all the multitude of the disciples rejoicing began to praise God with a great voice for all the works of power that they had seen, saying, 'Blessed be the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!' And some of the Pharisees from among the crowd said to Him, 'Teacher, rebuke Thy disciples.' And He answering told them, 'I say to you, If these should be silent, the stones would cry out.'

These are pretty clear examples. The Bible values freedom of speech.

Free speech and free thought are closely related. Deep communication is a big part of what makes us human. Humans developed the ability to have large scale cooperation through shared stories. If we can't speak freely, we lose the ability to communicate real thoughts, and we lose the ability to share new ideas, and our potential drops away.

Here are three excerpts from Swedenborg's works that relate to this:

"...when free speech and freedom of the press are curtailed, freedom of thought, that is, of examining matters in a full and complete way, suffers as well.... Our higher understanding, then, adapts itself to fit the amount of freedom there is to say and do what we are considering." (True Christian Religion 814).

"No one is reformed in a state of intellectual blindness, either. These individuals, too, are not aware of truths and do not know about life, because it is our discernment that must instruct us in these matters and our volition that must act them out. When our volition is doing what our discernment tells it to, then we have a life in accord with truths; but when our discernment is blind, our volition is blocked as well." (Divine Providence 144)

"No one is reformed in states where freedom and rationality are absent." (Divine Providence 38)

I was talking about this with a friend, and he reminded me that there are grey areas, where some freedom and discernment exist, but they are limited. I think he's right; we're mostly living in these grey areas. There are probably rare cases where freedom and rationality are at zero -- maybe when someone is in a coma. And I doubt if anyone has 100% freedom or discernment. In some ways, this makes free speech and free thought even more important. Life is not crystal clear, or free, and things that can help us as we seek understanding and freedom are really precious.

The example of Helen Keller bears on this. She called the day that Anne Sullivan arrived at her house "my soul's birthday". In her autobiography, The Story of My Life (1903), Keller described the moment when she realized that the motion of Anne's fingers, spelling w-a-t-e-r into her hand symbolized the water that she was pouring over her hand:

"I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.... The living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, set it free!"

Helen Keller also said, “One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”

Free speech and free thought need each other. And... what about religion?

Religion is a core set of thoughts. If you're not free to speak, your thinking is trammeled. If you're not free to think, how can you hope to get to the core ideas about why we exist, and what we are going to do -- how we are going to live? Religion is at the heart of it. Even if you reject religion altogether, you're still living by some sort of belief system, even if it's materialistic or nihilistic.

If you're told what you have to believe, it doesn't usually work out very well. There's a natural tendency to rebel. We need that freedom to figure things out for ourselves.

Albert Einstein said something that speaks to this:

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom. Without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail.”

Paul Schilpp, "Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist (1949) ‘Autobiographical Notes’"

And... here's another excerpt from Swedenborg's work, Heaven and Hell:

In a word, anything that does not enter us in freedom does not stay with us, because it does not belong to our love or intentions; and anything that does not belong to our love or intentions does not belong to our spirit. The actual reality of our spirit is love or volition - using the phrase "love or volition" because whatever we love, we intend. This is why we cannot be reformed except in a state of freedom. (Heaven and Hell 598)

M. Scott Peck reinforces this idea:

There is no such thing as a good hand-me-down religion. To be vital, to be the best of which we are capable, our religion must be a wholly personal one, forged entirely through the fire of our questioning and doubting in the crucible of our own experience of reality.
M. Scott Peck - Road Less Travelled

Finally, let's go back to see what the Bible says about it, in these two passages:

Saul of Tarsus was persecuting Christians -- trying to destroy their freedom of religion. He had a miraculous conversion experience that led him to be renamed Paul, the great Christian teacher and evangelist. (Acts 9)

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were persecuted - thrown in a fiery furnace - for worshipping in their own way, denying the edicts of Nebuchadnezzar. They were saved by an angel, who kept them from being burned. (Daniel 3)

Wrapping it up...

It's pretty clear that free speech, free thought, and free religion are part of the same fabric. They're very much part of being human. They're well supported in the Bible. They've been woven into the better governments of our time.

We need to take good care of them. They're necessary for us to be able to learn truth, and reject falsity -- and to "Cease to do evil, learn to do good." (Isaiah 1:16)

From Swedenborg's Works

 

Divine Providence #38

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38. No one who is caught up in the pleasures of cravings for evil can know anything about the pleasures of desires for what is good, the delight that fills the angelic heaven. This is because these two kinds of pleasure are absolute opposites inwardly and therefore just under the surface, even though they differ very little on the surface itself.

Every love has its own pleasures. A love for what is evil gives us pleasure when we are caught up in its compulsions. This holds, for example, for loving adultery, vengeance, cheating, theft, or cruelty, and among the worst of us, for loving blasphemy against the holy values of the church and spouting venomous nonsense about God. The wellspring of these pleasures is a love for being in control prompted by a love for ourselves.

These pleasures come from compulsions that obsess the deeper levels of our minds and flow down from there into our bodies, where they stimulate filthy reactions that excite our very fibers. The result is a physical pleasure prompted by mental pleasure in proportion to our compulsions.

[2] After death, in the spiritual world, we can all discover the identity and nature of the filthy things that excite our physical fibers. In general, they are like corpses, excrement, manure, sickening odors, and urine. The hells are overflowing with filth like this. (On their correspondence, see material in Divine Love and Wisdom 422-424.) Once we enter hell, though, these filthy pleasures turn into dreadful things.

I mention all this to aid in understanding the nature and quality of heavenly happiness in what follows. We recognize things by their opposites.

  
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   Study this Passage
Table of Contents
Angelic Wisdom about Divine Providence 1-26 The Lord's Divine Providence Has as Its Goal a Heaven from the Human Race 27-45 In Everything That It Does, the Lord's Divine Providence Is Focusing on What Is Infinite and Eternal 46-69 There Are Laws of Divine Providence That People Do Not Know 70 It Is a Law of Divine Providence That We Should Act in Freedom and in Accord with Reason 71-99 It Is a Law of Divine Providence That We Should Put Aside Evils in Our Outer Nature, Regarding Them as Sins and Doing So in Apparent Autonomy, and That This Is the Only Way the Lord Can Put Aside the Evils in Our Inner Nature and in Our Outer Nature Alike 100-128 It Is a Law of Divine Providence That We Should Not Be Compelled by Outside Forces to Think and Intend and So to Believe and Love in Matters of Our Religion, but That We Should Guide Ourselves and Sometimes Compel Ourselves 129-153 It Is a Law of Divine Providence That We Should Be Led and Taught by the Lord, from Heaven, by Means of the Word, and Teaching and Preaching from the Word, and That This Should Happen While to All Appearances We Are Acting Independently 154-174 It Is a Law of Divine Providence That We Should Not Sense or Feel Anything of the Working of Divine Providence, but That We Should Still Know about It and Acknowledge It 175-190 Our Own Prudence Is Nothing--It Only Seems to Be Something, As It Should. Rather, Divine Providence Is All-Inclusive Because It Extends to the Smallest Details 191-213 Divine Providence Focuses on Eternal Matters, and Focuses on Temporal Matters Only As They Coincide with Eternal Ones 214-220 We Are Not Granted Inner Access to the Truths That Our Faith Discloses and the Good Effects of Our Caring Except As We Can Be Kept in Them to the End of Our Life 221-233 Laws of Permission Are Also Laws of Divine Providence 234-274 Evils Are Permitted for a Purpose: Salvation 275-284 Divine Providence Is for Evil People and Good People Alike 285-307 Divine Providence Does Not Charge Us with Anything Evil or Credit Us with Anything Good; Rather, Our Own Prudence Claims Both 308-321 Everyone Can Be Reformed, and There Is No Such Thing as Predestination 322-330 The Lord Cannot Act Contrary to the Laws of Divine Providence, Because to Do So Would Be to Act Contrary to His Own Divine Love and His Own Divine Wisdom, and Therefore Contrary to Himself 331-340
From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Apocalypse Revealed 630

Divine Providence 45, 58, 123, 202, 253, 323


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Thanks to the Swedenborg Foundation for the permission to use this translation.

The Bible

 

Luke 19:37-40

Study the Inner Meaning

              

37 And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen;

38 Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.

39 And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.

40 And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

     

   Study the Inner Meaning

Explanation of Luke 19      

By Rev. John Clowes M.A.

Verses 1-10. That the Gentiles, who are out of the Church, are accepted of the Lord, and have conjunction with Him in charity and the good of life.

Verses 3-4. Because, notwithstanding their deficiency in the knowledges of truth from the Word, they are desirous to know the truth, and by that desire are elevated into the truths and goods of the external Church.

Verses 5-6. And are thus acknowledged by the Lord, and declared to be the members of His Church and kingdom, which declaration they receive with joy.

Verse 7. Still it appears contrary to order, that the Divine Truth should be imparted to those who are in disorder of life.

Verses 8-9. Until it is seen, that the Gentiles, who are out of the Church, are principled in charity, and that by charity they are capable of being saved, and thus of being received within the Church.

Verse 10. Since the Lord operates charity, faith, freewill, repentance and regeneration with every one, inasmuch as He wills the salvation of all.

Verses 11-13. For the Lord is willing to communicate to all the knowledges of truth and good from the Word, with the faculty of perceiving them.

Verse 14. And this, notwithstanding the force of hereditary and actual evil on the part of man, which is opposed to the Divine Love and Wisdom.

Verse 15. Every one therefore, sooner or later, must give an account of his application of those knowledges.

Verses 16-21. On which occasion it becomes manifest, that some procure, to themselves much intelligence and wisdom, and others procure some, and others none.

Verses 20-27. And that they who procure none are deprived of the truths which they possessed in the memory only, and not in the life.

Verse 21. Since they think harshly of the Divine mercy, and accuse it of expecting more from man than he has the ability to perform.

Verses 22-23. Whereas this their idea of the Divine mercy ought to have led them to exert themselves the more in procuring charity and the good of life.

Verses 24-26. And inasmuch as they have not made the use of the knowledges which they possessed, therefore those knowledges are taken away from them, since it is an eternal law, that they who are in the good of charity shall sooner or later be enriched with truths, whereas they who are in falsities derived from evil in the other life are deprived of all truths.

Verse 27. At the same time they are deprived of all spiritual life.

Verses 28-30. That the Lord from His Divine love, and by His Divine truth, explores the principles of the natural man as to truth, requiring them to be separated from all that is evil and false, and to receive influx of life from Himself.

Verse 31. And if the persuasions of the natural man oppose, they are to be overcome by teaching the necessity of such an influx to restore order.

Verses 32-34. Which necessity is accordingly taught, and is acknowledged by the natural man.

Verses 35-36. So that truths in every complex are submitted to the Lord.

Verses 37-38. And all, who are principled in what is good and true, exalt the Divine Human principle of the Lord, and His Divine operation, as the source of every blessing.

Verses 39-40. Which doctrine is taught, not only in the spiritual and internal sense of the Word, but also in its natural and literal sense.

Verses 41-42. The rejection therefore of this doctrine by the Jewish nation excites the tenderness of the Lord's love, that, if possible, they might receive it, but reception is now become impossible.

Verses 43-44. Inasmuch as through rejection of the Lord at his advent, they were immersed in evils and falsities of every kind, so that the representatives of a Church no longer existed amongst them.

Verses 45-46. For they made gain of holy things, and thus defiled all worship by perversion of what is holy.

Verses 47-48. And when the Lord would have instructed them in the things concerning himself and his kingdom, they opposed all his love and wisdom, yet not without caution, since there were still some remains of the affection of truth in the lower principles.

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 2781, 5291, 5323, 9212

Apocalypse Revealed 81, 336, 493, 618, 809, 839


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 31, 102, 340, 365, 405, 638, 1210

Scriptural Confirmations 2, 13

Related New Christian Commentary

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rejoice
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seen
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peace
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heaven
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glory
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highest
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pharisees
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multitude
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said
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answered
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