I love the theatre. To be clear, I’m not saying that I love a particular room with a stage and seating; no, I love the art of the theatre. I love the stories. I love the power a play can have as an audience is suddenly transported out of their own reality for a moment and placed within the imaginary circumstances provided by the playwright. I love how a well-done production causes audiences to laugh, or cry, or think. For all of these reasons and more, I love the theatre. It saddens me to see the theatre slowly fading from our culture. However, while it lasts, I think the theatre is an important means of illuminating ideas, political or otherwise, in a way that all people can grasp. This has always been a strength of the arts, to act as a mirror of the culture.
Years ago I had the privilege of directing a production of Seussical, a musical retelling of the beloved stories of Dr. Seuss. Although the play is very colorful and energetic, I wanted my actors to find moments of substance that would ground the characters. One particular moment that we discussed was in the musical number “The Biggest Blame Fool”, wherein the majority of the characters are harassing Horton the Elephant because he believes something which no one else does. His large ears allow him to hear the tiny Whos on the dust speck, while the others cannot. The Sour Kangaroo leads the other characters in singing, “Tellin’ lies, makin’ jokes it’s an elephant hoax! Brother, that’s against the law! Breakin’ the peace, creatin’ a fuss! Somebody’s thinkin’ different than us! Biggest blame fool in the Jungle of Nool!”
Right there on the page, the line jumped out to us. “Somebody’s thinkin’ different than us!” What does this mean for the characters in the story? They feel empowered to treat Horton however they deem right, whether that is to chase him off, incessantly harass him, or even throw him in jail. Thought crimes are just too much for these silly creatures to handle.
The crazy thing is, however, while this silly musical is intended to entertain children, it gives a lucid look at an important topic in our own day and age. Namely, the popular culture is becoming more and more aggressive toward those whom they see as committing a “thought crime”. In other words, “Believe like us, or else.”
In last week’s article I gave an historical sketch of Isaac Backus and his role in the fight for the separation of church and state in the 1700’s. Though I didn’t give much commentary throughout the article, one of my primary purposes was to highlight the fact that people of all backgrounds should desire that we retain, as a nation and in culture, the vital right of free speech and free thought. While most people seem to affirm this ideal, sometimes the evidence points in other directions.
Separation of church and state is the basic concept that the state will not mandate a particular church or religious philosophy to be believed by all at the consequence of judicial punishment. Yet, what about the philosophy, dare I say “faith”, of the secular culture? Should that be mandated by the state? Should individuals be punished if they do not bow the knee to the cultural “religion” of the day? Backus wrote, “How can such a union be expected so long as that dearest of all rights, equal liberty of conscience is not allowed?” So while certain groups and individuals will call for the freedom to express their ideas, in the next breath, they call for others to be punished for expressing contradictory ideas.
“Wait a second,” someone may interject, “haven’t religious people done the same thing as various points in history?” To that I respond, yes! There have been individuals and groups that have done horrendous things to people with contrary ideas in the name of religion. I am ready and willing to admit that. However, just because people of the past did erroneous things does not mean would should continue the habit. Instead, we must be able to work together to ensure that the freedom of conscience remains intact in our culture.
the secular world view gains more and more traction, the question must be posed
about the place for people of faith. Will religious believers be allowed to
think their own thoughts or should the state curb their ideas? Will Christians
be allowed to be Christians in a Biblical and historic sense or will the powers
of the culture bring their wrath upon the church?
These questions become more and more important as we approach another election cycle in which candidates for the office of the President of the United States come forward to vie for your vote. Albert Mohler comments, “The candidates need to be asked if they, as President, would use executive authority through federal departments to force a secular orthodoxy on religious groups, organizations, and businesses. The candidates need to be asked if they will protect the rights of Christian colleges to educate their students and hire their faculty in accordance with the tenets of faith, without being threatened by the state.” In other words, will Christians be allowed to be Christian?
Forced belief is bad idea for any world view. We must take a strong stance against any form of government coercion regarding belief. This doesn’t mean that people cannot disagree and shouldn’t passionately proclaim their beliefs. It does mean, however, that we have the right to agree or disagree without fear of government punishment. We must fight for the continued right to think!
Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.
By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ