BUTTERFIELD, Herbert, Liberty in the Modern World. Toronto (Dunning Trust Lectures): Ryerson Press, 1952

This is what Butterfield wrote fifty years ago for the Dunning Lectures at Queen's University, a few blocks from where I live in Kingston, Ontario:

"It matters greatly how human beings envisage that human drama in which they play out their little lives, how they formulate the issue to themselves and how they set about to decide what it is they are going to do in the world. At one extreme are the people who believe that human beings should be herded together like cattle so that they can be harnessed and organized to serve some general purpose - which by definition must be the same for all men. The object of this slave-system may be the construction of pyramids for a Pharaoh, the exploitation of the resources of nature, or the building-up of a great system of military power (today he would have added the forcing of all people to submit to the Qur'an and live under sharia law).

At the opposite extreme are the individualists and lovers of liberty who envisage a different form of life for human beings on this earth. They do not reject organization in respect of certain utilitarian purposes, but they insist on freedom which allows personalities to blossom out - allows them to spread themselves in their own particular way. On this view the world is felt to be a richer place because men and women show such remarkable variety and move to such diverse ends" (1-2).

A key question for both Christian and Islamic theology is whether God (Dieu, Allah) wants to allow humans this kind of freedom. As Butterfield pointed out, the Christian church in a country, whether Roman Catholic or Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinistic or Greek Orthodox, has again and again rejected the goal of freedom and tried to force everyone to submit to some system of truth and behavior (10-12). In every Islamic country the same theological question is being raised, and must be encouraged.

Canadians like to evaluate people as friendly or sincere, dedicated or religious, good citizens or hard working, well-mannered or educated. But suddenly in the present crisis we have to ask the key question that Butterfield saw was important. Do you recognize and encourage our individual freedom to be different and follow our own conscience? Or do you want to force us into your political or religious agenda?

As that question is answered we face the ultimate question of what model of religion we intend to live by. It is easy to reject Christian faith as an interference in our freedom, but is there any alternative that can give reasons for personal freedom? The Trinitarian Theism of the Nicene Creed (I call it Creative Love Theism) offers a God who is love, and loves us enough to encourage our freedom.

But we should add that from Herbert Butterfield's previous very great book, Christianity and History (London: G.Bell & Sons, 1949) we know that God also loves us so much that he intervenes fiercely in human history to topple tyranny when freedom has been denied for too long.

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