The Abolition of Liberty? Religious Freedom and Education Amid Today’s Intellectual Confusion

January 5, 2024

Todd Huizinga, RFI Senior Fellow for Europe, wrote an essay in The European Conservative this week on the relevance of C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, published 80 years ago, in which he argues that the Western culture of secularism and scientific relativism has led to a rejection of truth, true morality, and therefore true freedom. Huizinga sheds lights on the consequences for education and religious freedom, arguing that the freedom of religion is about the freedom to seek the truth. He writes:

In the largely post-religious culture of Europe and North America, fewer and fewer people care about religion. Many have forgotten what religion is. Naturally, with the increasing incomprehension of religion, a new, profoundly wrong, and destructive understanding of religious freedom has arisen. Religious freedom has come to be conflated with freedom of choice. After all, we are tolerant. We claim to celebrate diversity. ‘Choice’ is the idol of our age. Everyone has the right to choose everything, including his or her religion. In a diverse and pluralistic society, upholding choice—the right of everyone freely to choose what he believes—is seen as the only way to guarantee religious freedom for all. But that is a deeply distorted understanding of religious freedom. 

Because religion is necessarily about the pursuit of truth, freedom of religion—rightly understood—is about the freedom to seek the truth, not about ‘freedom of choice.’ In fact, as Pope John Paul the Great argued in his majestic encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, all freedom is rooted in truth. Embracing the relativistic glorification of ‘choice’ as the grounds of religious freedom is as much as to argue against all freedom. We must decidedly reject relativism, and explicitly ground religious freedom in the right to pursue authoritative, objective truth. 

With Lewis, I would like to make a number of points on the connection between truth and morality. Truth is also about morality, and is vital to Lewis’ doctrine of objective value. It is always about what is good and what is evil; it is about what is right and true, and what is wrong and untrue; it is about what is to be valued, and what is not to be valued. Therefore, freedom of religion—the freedom to pursue the truth—roots freedom not only in truth, but also in moral obligation:

Freedom does not mean the right to do, say, or believe whatever we choose, but only the right to do, say, and believe what is truly good. To put it another way, the heart of freedom—especially religious freedom—is not unlimited choice, but the very opposite of choice. The heart of freedom—especially religious freedom—is obligation: being duty-bound to do and seek what is good and what is true without being free to pursue what is not good and not true. Ultimately, true freedom is limited freedom. True education must also necessarily be about the pursuit of truth. And it must also necessarily be about freedom—the freedom to pursue the truth.”

Read the full essay: “The Abolition of Liberty? Religious Freedom and Education Amid Today’s Intellectual Confusion.”