Last evening I met with our “Doing the Right Thing” small group in Greenville, where we discussed the moral and ethical challenges facing our country. At the beginning of the meeting I asked each participant to share what they believe is the greatest threat to American freedom, and they all agreed on an answer. Each person pointed to our national abandonment of God as the core cause of our country’s challenges. While I echo that sentiment, I’d point to a very specific portion of that sentiment as the heart of the socializing of our society: the failure to accept the reality of original sin.
Attempts to create heaven in this world, known as utopianism, have typically resulted in hell on Earth. This is because attempts at creating Utopia are based in the naturalistic notion that humans are innately good. While thousands of years of recorded human history refute this assertion, it is still championed as fact. Thus, the naturalists, who may well be labeled secular-progressives in our time, believe that we need to be “freed” from silly beliefs in things like moral absolutes, that there’s a God and that some things are right and wrong. The naturalist secular progressives tell us that, if we just return to the “state of nature,” we’ll all get along and striving will cease. Economic difficulties will dissipate and a worker’s paradise will lead to prosperity for us all.
Unfortunately, entire nations, like the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, prove to us that abandoning moral absolutes leads to absolute tyranny. Even here in the United States, we have the example of the 1970’s era religious cult called Synanon. The sect of Synanon began as a drug rehabilitation program in northern California, but soon collapsed into a small order socialist state. Founded by Charles E. “Chuck” Dederich, Synanon was a drug rehabilitation program that embraced the notion of Naturalism, and the ideology of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who believed that man simply needed to “return to the state of nature” to find wholeness and happiness. In other words, abandon societal structures of right and wrong, particularly those that are related to religious beliefs.
Synanon worked well for a while, but then took a dark turn for the worse. The program expanded to be a lifestyle more than a rehab, wherein people were paying their life savings for a membership to the community. In exchange, entire families moved into communes, worked one-week on and one-week off shifts in factories run by the community’s administrators, and turned their children over to Synanon-run schools. Chuck Dederich, the program’s founder, even started styling himself as the savior, and calling on members of Synanon to worship him as their leader. Dissent was not tolerated, and allegiance to Chuck was considered of utmost importance. To ensure the loyalty of his community, Dederich even instituted an Imperial Militia to serve as a statist style security regiment, which acted more like the secret police.
The example of Synanon seems extreme, like something out of a George Orwell novel, but it is the natural result of naturalism. This same naturalistic notion is reemerging in our day, in the form of secular-progressivism or secular-socialism. There are plenty of well-intentioned people who buy into the ideology of Synanon, if by another name. The reason why such a Synanon-style statism is possible is that individuals are undermined in the name of “freedom.” By supposedly “freeing” folks trapped in preconceived superstitions, like belief in right and wrong and that there’s a God to whom we are accountable, tyrants trample the individual personality of individuals. Thus, they create a malleable community of compliant people devoid of any beliefs of their own. Instead of unleashing the “inner goodness” of fallen human beings, these ideologies unleash the inner insecurities in some and the base desires for power and control in others. Thus, the only law becomes the law of the strong vs. the weak, wherein might makes right. Principles are replaced with power, and government is no longer about laws, but who writes the law.
The Soviet Union and Synanon are both examples of what happens when human society attempts to remake heaven on Earth. Such is the essence of socialism, statism, collectivism and Communism; they always undermine the truth in exchange for a lie. The lie that man is capable of governing himself without any higher law is a grave threat to liberty. As Peter Wehner and Arthur Brooks write in their excellent book Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism, the Founders believed “that human nature was mixed, a combination of virtue and vice, nobility and occupation. People were swayed by both reason and passion, capable of self-government but not to be trusted with absolute power.”
Such is the lesson that we who love liberty must learn ourselves, and then teach to our fellow citizens. The future of freedom depends on it.