The Separation of Church & State Defended: Selected Writings of James E. Wood, Jr.

By Derek H. Davis; James E. Wood Jr. | Go to book overview

Religion and Freedom

I n the present struggle between East and West, there is the marked tendency to identify the freedom of the West with its Christian heritage and the denial of freedom in the East with atheistic communism. The claim is frequently made that our freedom is rooted in our religious heritage and that the rejection of that heritage is the basis of the denial of freedom in the East today. While there can be little doubt that the denial of basic freedoms has occurred in communist countries, as in the Soviet Union for example, there is a fundamental fallacy in this interpretation of religion and freedom.

To assume that religion has generally been identified with freedom and that irreligion, or the denial of theistic values, inevitably results in despotism is not only a naive assumption but a gross distortion of the facts. Throughout human history religion and freedom have clearly not been natural allies. Even among the high religions, the ultimate concerns of the various religious traditions have in a sense precluded the right of freedom in matters of faith and practice. As Roland H. Bainton has pointed out, "the prerequisites for persecution are three: (1) The persecutor must believe that he is right; (2) that the point in question is important; (3) that coercion will be effective." These conditions have formed the basis of waves of intense persecutions carried on throughout the centuries by Islam and Christianity, in both Catholicism and Protestantism, and still in often less blatant ways are the foundation of religious opposition to full freedom today. Intolerance not tolerance, conformity not non-conformity, and assent not dissent, have been the hallmarks of the history of religion. More wars have been fought, more persecutions have been carried out, and more lives have been lost in the name of religion than for any other single cause. As

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