John Steward of Jesus
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The essential link to freedom

May 16, 1980

Freedom finally depends on the assertion and demand by each individual that he alone has final control over his own will, and that no other man on earth may override or control that right of free will.

In the political sphere this implies that the individual only recognizes those authorities to whom he chooses to give limited authority, and only to that extent, That limited authority is best spelled out in writing. But the individual must always reserve to himself the right to make final interpretations regarding that authority-—the final authority to interpret the “constitution" or any other definition of the authority to be recognized. For, otherwise, the interpreter of the agreement becomes the final authority. The judge can become a tyrant as well as the executive; certainly he can be a tool of the tyrannical executive.

In the religious sphere the individual must also reserve the right to be the the final “prophet” in interpreting the “scriptures” and the authority which they give to the religious authorities. This was the crux of the Reformation. For, any authority which acquires the right to finally interpret its own authority can easily control the individuals who then quickly lose their freedom. Totalitarian control can proceed from a religious as well as from a political base.

The Protestant reformation demanded the individual’s right to finally interpret religious “scripture." The American Revolution demanded the right of the individual to finally interpret the political “constitution.” They are essentially the same demands. Both demands appeal to “God” who gave man his rights and consequent responsibilities. One’s appeal to god is his appeal to individual dignity and significance. For, apart from this right to make the final judgments the individual is only a pawn in the hand of the authority, as a robot in the hands of its manufacturer or manager. A “god-given” right is no more nor less than a right which the individual asserts to be non-negotiable--a right without which he will commit himself to nothing--the rights without which he ceases to be an individual with a life worth living, certainly without a life worth working or suffering for.

This is not to say that the individual will not choose to recognize  authorities, even in areas which he has not thought through himself. Certainly everyone recognizes authorities and chooses to follow their recommendations, even their orders in areas where he has chosen to give them such responsibility and authority. This is necessary for orderly life in a complex world. But all individuals who wish to maintain their freedom must insist that this is, in the last analysis, a voluntary decision by each individual, regardless of how incompetent he may appear to be. He may choose to renounce one religious authority and accept another. He may leave one country and go to another. But if any human being with sufficient competence to be treated as a normal human being must give up his right to another who is an authority in his own right or a “god-given” right, then that authority will soon have authority over those who recognize his authority over a third party.

Hypocrisy in religion is pretending to recognize an authority while undermining it or living in a way which undermines the authority.

Treason in politics is claiming to recognize an authority while working against it.

The evil in both treason and hypocrisy lies in the deceit which makes it impossible for other men to exercise their freedom and reach their goals in a rational way.

It must never be claimed that non-recognition of, or even outright opposition against a religious or political authority is in itself an evil act. Those who submit to the religious authority may choose to ostracize the “heretic.” Those who choose to recognize the political authority may deport the “alien.” But they must never punish the outcast for his assertion of freedom and of the right of final appeal. In so doing, they lose the rights to their own freedom.

What the existence of God does for the individual man, is to give him a standard of appeal for his conscience which is outside the will and control of all other men. This appeal may be to his individual conception of God and his standards, or to an expression of those standards recognized by other men, such as a national constitution in political affairs, or a creed in religious affairs. But, in either case the individual asserts that his final appeal will be directly to his God through his conscience. This is the individual's fundamental assertion of dignity, value, and freedom, The individual who ceases to exercise this critical function has no unique value to himself or to any other member of the human race. He is a pawn.