Clay Christensen on Religious Liberty

Clay Christensen on Religious Liberty January 21, 2015

I agree and disagree with this. He is perfectly right that, in the words of Chesterton, when you get rid of the Big Laws, you don’t get freedom and you don’t even get anarchy. You get the small laws.

And so as we slide toward paganism, we inevitably slide toward a police/security state devoted to defending the rich and powerful and the enforcement of an increasingly unjust economy at home and an increasingly overbearing presence abroad. These things are Bad.


You can’t have a “return to religion” merely as a form of crowd control. Uncle Screwtape explains:

About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything–even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations”. You see the little rift? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.” That’s the game,

Or, as Jesus put it:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Mt 6:31–33).

If we try to achieve a healthy civilization by using God to get to a healthy civilization, he will not cooperate with us, because he demands to be first in our lives. If we put him first, we will find blessings are a side benefit. He will not be used to accessorize our pursuit of money, pleasure, power, and honor.

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  • BHG

    Oh, well done. That will be the focus of meditation for me today. So so easy to view God as means even to good ends.

  • jroberts548

    Most people don’t commit murder because they don’t want to commit murder. Even pagans through the natural law can know not to kill, steal, etc. You have to have an exceedingly low anthropology, one that’s mostly alien to Catholicism, to suppose that most people obey the laws prohibiting malum in se crimes only due to religious belief. You’d also have to explain why the violent crime rate is decreasing, even while religious observance is decreasing. Professor Christensen might know a lot about disruptive innovation. He doesn’t seem to know much about crime rates and religiosity.

    ETA: But yeah, if we want a religion whose purpose is to foster loyalty to the law, I’d go with a state religion, rather than one whose founding act consisted of someone being executed by the Roman government for breaking the law.

    • Artevelde

      ”Most” people indeed don’t commit murder because they subscribe to a moral system that prohibits it, and that system can indeed be a pagan one. Thinking back on classes in cultural anthropology though, I remember that the only moral prohibition that all human groups – past or present – share is that against killing their own father. One can certainly imagine a robust moral system without Christianity, most likely even without anything resembling faith and religion, but it would be an entirely different beast alright. I totally agree with everything else you and Mark write. Let’s get the order right. First comes seeking to live up to the gospel, then come the side benefits. And yes, Christianity is not the most handy law enforcement tool available.

  • Better small laws than large ones, better the corner store than the international market, better the parish than the state.

    • Irksome1

      You appear to miss the point. A “large” law, like don’t commit adultery, can do the work of the hundreds of small laws, regulations, special rules and appendices thereto that we’ve needed to make up on the fly having done away with the “large” law.

      • Ok. Yeah, I’d call that “general” and “specific” rather than “large” and “small”. Large and small seem to me to be comparisons of competency and jurisdiction.