church · culture

Moral Relativism – Part 4 (De Tocqueville)

De Tocqueville once wrote “I know of no country in which there is no less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America…In America, the majority draws a formidable ring around thought. Within these limits, the writer is free; but woe to him if he dares to go outside of it. It is not that he has to fear being burnt at the stake, but he is exposed to all kinds of execrations and daily persecutions. A political career is close to him: he has offended the only power which has the capability of publishing his opinions, he believed that he had partisans; it seems to him that he no longer has any now that he has opened himself up to everyone, because those who condemn him express themselves loudly, and those who think like him, without having his courage, fall silent, and withdraw. He gives in, he bows in the end beneath the effort of each day, and he becomes silent again, as if he felt remorse at having told the truth. Chains and executioners: those are the crude instruments which tyranny formerly employed, but in our day civilization has perfected even despotism itself…”

De Tocqueville really was a prophet of his own time, but he still speaks today prophetically. As American Christians, we are quick to think that we are “lucky” for living in a place that allows us to practice our beliefs.  Some even argue, as American leaders have been quoted on China Aid, that the “hope of the majority of millions of unregistered Chinese Christians, is that the Chinese government will recognize that the majority of unregistered house church members and their leaders are stable, patriotic citizens whose faith is not a threat to national security, but instead they are the single greatest asset the Chinese government has for building and sustaining a harmonious society that can meet the growing social needs and the problems that the wealth gap is creating.” But is this the case? Will recognizing Christianity in a “free Chinese society” help Christianity? And what does all of this have to do with moral relativism?

In America, we have no fear of, as De Tocqueville puts it, being burned at the stake.   As a result, we take things like religion and equality lightly.  We instead fear being burned in the press. John McCain is not afraid that his views on immigration or religion will end in his execution, McCain is worried that stories about lobbyists will get leaked to the press. America is run more by a state of consensus than a state of “truth” or “objectivity.” Bowling used to be considered a “sinful” place to go because of the atmosphere of drinking and immoral behavior was associated with it. Nowadays, bowling is considered a place for family fun and excitement. These are interesting questions not only for America, but moreso for the church.

We live in a culture, unlike China, where religion is cheap and peddled on every street corner. Everyone has a brand of God that they want to serve to the masses. If the church wants to succeed they must have more than words. They must be willing to enter into De Tocqueville’s “formidable ring around thought” and proclaim what they believe to be the truth. This truth, however, has to be more than propositions and doctrines. Many children who grow up in the church understand all the doctrines and theological propositions of the church without ever experiencing Jesus Christ as the triune God of all comfort. In America, we do not face stakes for what we believe, but we do face a pretentious media who may crucify us literarily for what we believe.

The question then is how Christians should talk about this truth and how they should practice this truth. We will explore the truth of Christianity and the practice of Christianity in posts to come.

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