Can Religious Liberty Stand the Test of Time?

Written by Adam Cable

Many summers ago, I was biking with my dad, descending a steep hill. We crossed a large bridge that overlooked a major freeway, and I was captivated by the view. However, it was not until about three-quarters of the way down the hill that I realized I hadn’t started braking to brace for the sharp ninety-degree turn at the bottom. It was at this point that I knew I’d messed up.

I tried desperately at the last second to slam on my brakes in time to make the turn, but I inevitably lost control and drifted into a wall that ran along the edge of the trail. My leg was covered in blood, and my fourteen-year-old mind started panicking. Luckily, my dad knew how to fix me up. After a couple of weeks, my wounds had healed entirely. Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the view had the unintended consequence of causing deep wounds on my leg- it’s safe to say I’ve never made the mistake of braking too late again. Unfortunately, mitigating and repairing the damage done isn’t always that easy.

The intersection of religion and politics is saturated with anecdotal examples of religious people creating political divisiveness. Individuals of many different beliefs on the right and left take turns wounding each other over critical race theory, police brutality, vaccine mandates, LGBTQ rights, and abortion. Of course, many of the people doing the wounding are coming from a well-meaning place, much like I was enjoying the view from the top of the hill before I had my rendezvous with the wall. Yet no matter the intentions, the damage is done, and the wounds from this war of words are profound.

All this wounding has taken my mind to a place where I wonder if religious freedom will last for eternity. Many Christians have never been more ashamed of their more radical counterparts. That being said, I have confidence that reducing the current level of harm will increase the chances of religious freedom maintaining its longevity. What it comes down to is the ability to listen.

The very wise Walter Lippmann once said, “The opposition is indispensable. A good statesman, like any other sensible human being, always learns more from his opponents than from his fervent supporters” (Atlantic Monthly, 1939). In modern society, many misconstrue the meaning of free speech to be the ability to say whatever you want without any repercussions, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The beauty and essence of free speech is listening to those who disagree with you and allowing your ideas to be challenged, amended, and updated.

Many in the religious community see their religious beliefs as a closed book that can’t be opened or rewritten. Yet their behavior is in direct contradiction with this conceptualization of free speech. First, it causes religious folks to ignore people and ideas that challenge their beliefs. This creates a constant feedback mechanism that causes the individual only to be exposed to their own preexisting beliefs, leading to a false sense that their beliefs are the only true and correct beliefs. The religious person soon consumes enough of their own ideas that they roll uncontrollably down a hill and crash right into a wall at the bottom, causing serious harm to themselves and others on the trail. Sound familiar?

We’ve all seen this movie play out before. For me, it looked something like this: a group chat of friends from a church congregation spiraling into a hotly contested debate about the necessity of mask mandates at church gatherings. Maybe yours was similar. Fortunately for us, most movies have happy and meaningful endings.

My plea to those of all belief systems is this: do better to listen to those most different from you. Heaven forbid you to learn something about why they’re different. Heaven forbid listening to them causes you to traverse through the proverbial hills of life more gracefully. I hope that those of you who are the neighbors, friends, coworkers, or others along the trail will continue to be patient. Most of us are still learning how to use our brakes properly.

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