Last July (2016), a group of four preachers, two British and two American, were doing some open air preaching outside of a shopping center in Bristol, England. In their preaching, they asserted that the only way to God is through Jesus Christ. They also enumerated a number of sins that would keep people away from God.
As they preached, some of the people who heard them were offended and called a police officer who ordered the preachers to leave the area. He told them that they were not welcome, and were causing a disturbance. When the men would not leave, the officer arrested them.
Later, charges were dropped for two of the preachers. The other two, however, went to trial and were convicted of “intentionally alarming the public with their preaching.” The prosecutor, Ian Jackson, issued a press release where he stated, “To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth.” He also said that it was wrong for the preachers to include homosexuals in a list of sinners, and that doing so must be considered to be abusive and a criminal matter. In the end, those two preachers were convicted of violating the Crime and Disorder Act which prohibits speech or behavior causing intentional harassment, alarm, or distress that is racially or religiously aggravated. They were fined about $2,500.00 each.
It is amazing that something like this could happen in the UK, but similar things are happening in America, as well. Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Washington state, was convicted in court of discrimination because she turned down a job to create floral arrangements for a gay wedding. A similar thing happened to the owners of Sweet Cakes By Melissa when the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry ordered the owners to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding. When they declined, the state forced them to pay $135,000 in damages to the lesbian couple they turned away.
And in Wisconsin, there is a law that says creative professionals must be willing to promote messages that violate their religious beliefs. Under that law, photographer Amy Lawson is barred from turning down business that would force her to promote pro-abortion causes or gay marriage. Those who violate the state law are subject to severe criminal fines of up to $10,000.00, business license suspension or revocation, as well as civil and punitive damages.
To traditional American sensibilities, these limitations of freedom seem rather outrageous, but this kind of thing is becoming increasingly common. Why is it happening? The answer has to do with the religious beliefs these laws are based upon.
To be sure, the people who create these kinds of laws, and those who prosecute them, to not see any religious element to them. In these people’s minds, the laws are purely secular – without any religious content whatsoever. In their thinking, they are simply preventing discrimination. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, they are not preventing discrimination at all. In fact, they are actually legalizing discrimination against those who disagree with their religious viewpoint.
While adherents of these kinds of laws truly believe that their directives are religiously neutral, they are, in fact religious in nature. The very basis of all these kinds of laws is naturalistic belief.
Understanding Naturalistic Belief
In order to grasp the religious nature of naturalistic beliefs, we need to have a way of identifying the religious foundation of the beliefs. We do this by answering three simple questions:
1. What is the nature of ultimate reality? (Who is God?)
2. What is a human being? (What is man?)
3. What is the ultimate a person can get out of life? (What is salvation?)
Here is the way Naturalism answers these questions:
1. The natural universe is all that exists.
2. Human beings are purely material animals that naturally evolved to their current place in the evolutionary chain.
3. The ultimate a person can get out of life is to personally decide upon, and achieve, personal fulfillment.
The Nature of Naturalistic Belief
If you look carefully at the three answers, you can’t help but notice that all of them are faith assumptions. There is not a single one that can be demonstrated using scientific discovery. This is quite revealing, as the most basic assumption of a naturalistic worldview is that the natural universe is all that exists. If that is true, then it also has to be true that everything is explainable based on the natural laws of the universe, and that science can ultimately discover how everything works.
So how is it that NOTHING they assert can be explained by science? While the belief system requires that to be so (as there is no other possibility), the belief in that belief system is not based on science – it is based on faith.
So, what about the moral values they promote? After all, in the example above, the court’s officers in England asserted that it is impossible for the message of these preachers to be true, yet they asserted their own version of truth and punished the preachers for not conforming to that standard. Those authorities had no way to demonstrate that their own beliefs were true; they decided based purely on personal preference. The exact same issue is playing out as it relates to the American florist, baker, and photographer. The beliefs that form the basis for the moral decrees of the state – that discrimination was happening – was based purely on the personal preferences of those who made those decrees.
And that is the problem with Naturalism. The bottom line of that belief system is power – the ones with the power get to decide the moral values everyone else must live by. They do not acknowledge the existence of any transcendent values. Since they don’t believe there is any such thing as objective “Truth,” they have no choice but to make it up for themselves – and they must do so based on their own personal preferences.
How These Beliefs Are Applied to Make Law
When it comes to making laws based on naturalistic beliefs, we need to understand that they must be created based on the personal preferences of the ones designing and enforcing them. Since Naturalists acknowledge no transcendent law giver, there is no other possibility – so there cannot be any law or moral value that is universally right. People have to make it up themselves.
So here is how that works: For whatever reason, the ones in power decide on a definition of discrimination, arbitrarily deem it to be immoral, then selectively apply the definition to the classes of behavior that they want to discourage or eliminate. The result is that they end up supporting one set of people as aggrieved, and sanctioning all those who disagree with their definition. For instance, when the florist in Washington was convicted of discriminating against a gay customer, the court, by default, also decided that discriminating against the beliefs of the florist was okay. Since Naturalism recognizes no objective foundation for values, the basis for the court’s decision was necessarily the personal preferences and opinions of the government officials.
Interestingly, those who prosecute these cases literally do not see the selectivity of their preferences. They really do believe that they are deciding rightly. This speaks to the unconscious nature of worldview beliefs. Worldview beliefs are, for most people, so foundational that they are not even aware of them. These beliefs are based on what individuals understand to be real and not real. Thus, if an offenders beliefs are considered to not be real, while one’s own are real, then the outcome should be obvious to all. The only problem is, while their beliefs are “deemed” to be real, in actuality they are not – they are merely beliefs.
The End Result is the Destruction of Religious Liberty
So, what is the end result of this kind of thinking? Beliefs that do not correspond to the preferences of the powerful are deemed crimes. What is right and wrong, legal and illegal, is based upon people’s personal preferences, so any act that runs contrary to those preferences can be deemed a crime – and that is exactly what has happened in the illustrations above. Not making flower arrangements or baking a cake for a gay wedding was considered criminal discrimination. Not taking a job photographing a pro-abortion rally can be considered criminal discrimination. When this kind of mindset is the basis of law and morality, freedom of conscience is set aside.
A naturalistic worldview basis for law and morality puts the preferences of the powerful above the conscience rights of the individual. As a result, the only people who are free to think and act according to their beliefs are those who agree with the ones in power. Everyone else must, by necessity, give up their beliefs or face sanctions. True religious liberty requires a belief in absolutes, and a respect for the rights of conscience. A naturalistic basis for creating law will only result in tyranny. It is only biblical beliefs that are able to provide an objective basis for religious liberty.
© 2017 Freddy Davis