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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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.

From Swedenborg's Works

 

Heaven and Hell #598

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598. The reason we cannot be reformed unless we have some freedom is that we are born into evils of all kinds, evils which need to be taken away if we are to be saved. They cannot be taken away unless we see them within ourselves, admit that they are there, then refuse them and ultimately turn away from them. Only then are they taken away. This cannot happen unless we are exposed to both good and evil, since it is from good that we can see evils, though we cannot see what is good from evil. We learn the good spiritual things we can think from infancy from the reading of the Word and from sermons. We learn the moral and civic values from our life in the world. This is the primary reason we need to be in freedom.

[2] The second reason is that nothing becomes part of us except as a result of some affection of love. True, other things can enter us, but no deeper than into our thought, not into our volition; and anything that does not enter our volition is not ours. This is because thinking is derived from our memory, while volition is derived from our life itself. Nothing is ever free unless it comes from our volition, or what amounts to the same thing, from a particular affection that stems from our love. Whatever we intend or love, we do freely. This is why our freedom and the affection of our love or intentions are one. So we also have freedom in order to be able to be moved by what is true and good, or to love them, so that they do become part of us.

[3] 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.

But there is more on our freedom in the extracts from Secrets of Heaven below.

  
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Table of Contents
The Lord is God of Heaven 2-6 It Is the Lord's Divine Nature That Makes Heaven 7-12 The Lord's Divine Nature in Heaven Is Love for Him and Thoughtfulness toward One's Neighbor 13-19 Heaven Is Divided into Two Kingdoms 20-28 There Are Three Heavens 29-40 The Heavens Are Made Up of Countless Communities 41-50 Each Community Is a Heaven in Smaller Form and Each Angel a Heaven in Smallest Form 51-58 The Whole Heaven, Grasped as a Single Entity, Reflects a Single Individual 59-67 Each Community in the Heavens Reflects a Single Individual 68-72 Therefore Every Angel Is in Perfect Human Form 73-77 It Is Owing to the Lord's Divine Human That Heaven, in Its Entirety and in Its Parts, Reflects a Person 78-86 There Is a Correspondence of Everything in Heaven with Everything in the Human Being 87-102 There Is a Correspondence of Heaven with Everything Earthly 103-115 The Sun in Heaven 116-125 Light and Warmth in Heaven 126-140 The Four Quarters in Heaven 141-153 How the States of Angels in Heaven Change 154-161 Time in Heaven 162-169 Representations and Appearances in Heaven 170-176 The Clothes Angels Appear In 177-182 Angels' Homes and Houses 183-190 Space in Heaven 191-199 Heaven's Form, Which Determines How People Associate and Communicate There 200-212 Forms of Government in Heaven 213-220 Divine Worship in Heaven 221-227 The Power of Heaven's Angels 228-233 The Language of Angels 234-245 How Angels Talk with Us 246-257 Written Materials in Heaven 258-264 The Wisdom of Heaven's Angels 265-275 The State of Innocence of Angels in Heaven 276-283 The State of Peace in Heaven 284-290 The Union of Heaven with the Human Race 291-302 Heaven's Union with Us through the Word 303-310 Heaven and Hell Come from the Human Race 311-317 Non-Christians, or People outside the Church, in Heaven 318-328 Children in Heaven 329-345 Wise and Simple People in Heaven 346-356 Rich and Poor People in Heaven 357-365 Marriages in Heaven 366-386 What Angels Do in Heaven 387-394 Heavenly Joy and Happiness 395-414 The Vastness of Heaven 415-420 The World of Spirits and Our State After Death 421-431 Each of Us Is Inwardly a Spirit 432-444 Our Revival from the Dead and Entry into Eternal Life 445-452 After Death, We Are in a Complete Human Form 453-460 After Death, We Enjoy Every Sense, Memory, Thought, and Affection We Had in the World: We Leave Nothing Behind except Our Earthly Body 461-469 Our Nature after Death Depends on the Kind of Life We Led in the World 470-484 After Death, the Pleasures of Everyone's Life Are Turned into Things That Correspond 485-490 Our First State after Death 491-498 Our Second State after Death 499-511 Our Third State after Death, Which Is a State of Instruction for People Who Are Entering Heaven 512-520 No One Enters Heaven on the Basis of Mercy Alone 521-527 It Is Not So Hard to Lead a Heaven-Bound Life as People Think It Is 528-535 Hell 536-544 The Lord Does Not Cast Anyone into Hell: Spirits Cast Themselves In 545-550 All the People Who Are in the Hells Are Absorbed in Evils and Consequent Falsities because of Their Love for Themselves and the World 551-565 Hellfire and Gnashing of Teeth 566-575 The Malice and Unspeakable Skills of Hellish Spirits 576-581 The Appearance, Location, and Number of the Hells 582-588 The Equilibrium between Heaven and Hell 589-596 Our Freedom Depends on the Balance between Heaven and Hell 597-603
From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Divine Providence 23

Doctrine of the Lord 61

Doctrine of Life 20

The Last Judgement 33

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 149


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 349, 695


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At every moment the Lord lifts all people up towards heaven and protects from evil.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17


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


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