“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
John 8:36 (NIV UK)
Today the Scottish people vote about independence, after a period of time where the pros and cons were hotly debated. Individual and national freedom is deeply embedded in the human psyche and important milestones on the road to freedom are celebrated in many countries. Next year the UK will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. In the US, Americans celebrate Independence Day annually as do the French Bastille Day.
In 1989 about 2 million people made a brave gesture by joining hands to form a human chain over 370 miles long linking three Baltic capital cities, Tallinn (Estonia), Riga (Latvia) and Vilnius (Lithuania) to demonstrate their desire for freedom from Soviet communist domination.
When religion is perceived to be oppressive and the enemy of progress, there is an increase of interest in atheism which some perceive to offer freedom and liberation . In the nineteenth century opinions differed widely as to what a godless world would be like. Some, like the novelist Dostoyevsky, warned that it could open the door to oppression and brutality by removing any divine limitation to human action. Others thought it would usher in a brave new world of freedom and Karl Marx declared that atheism was the ideology of a communist society.
The twentieth century was an era of man-made mass death which included two world wars with the Holocaust, as well as the brutal tyranny of various communist regimes; none of which can be laid at the feet of religion or God. In that century about half the world’s population came to live under the domination of communist imposed institutionalised atheism. For many what followed in the wake of these regimes were terror, torture, liquidation squads, purges, mass deportations and famines. History has clearly shown that religion is not the root of all evil.
In fairness, many atheists today would not agree with the measures used by these Marxist regimes. Likewise, most Christians would not agree with the methods of terror (the inquisition etc.) carried out by some religious groups, past or present. So what is the common denominator between religious and atheistic extremism? Clearly it is not God; it is humanity. The common denominator is human extremism and violent intolerance, often driven by some form of ideology, and practised by those that have turned their backs on the way of love.
In the first few centuries AD the Christian church had no temporal power and was at times oppressed and persecuted. During this period Christianity neither spread nor was maintained by force and oppression. Significant reasons for its spread throughout the Roman Empire were its positive spiritual and moral message and the positive example of many of its adherents. The gospel message, as the above scripture states, includes a message that we are set free in Christ. But in Christian ideology based on the Bible, that freedom is to be used to benefit others, as the prophet Micah wrote “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). It is freedom to practise Christian love as outlined by the apostle Paul, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1Corinthians 13:4-7)
In a violent world, Christianity is intended to heal, not exacerbate, the fault lines of human nature that can run deep through humanity.
Father we thank you that it is your will that all humanity should be saved and come to knowledge of the truth through Jesus and his gospel of peace. Help us to spread and live by this gospel.
Study by Eddie Marsh
 The Twilight of Atheism: Alister McGrath, ISBN 1844131556
Grace Communion, Sheffield
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