Defining True Freedom – With Professor Mark David Hall: What is true freedom? Can you have true political liberty with no morality? What are the foundations of liberty? How do you run a nation with no common standards? What did freedom mean for the Founders? Do you have the right to do what is wrong? What laws truly establish liberty? Tune in to hear Professor Mark David Hall give interesting answers to these questions and more!
Air Date: 10/26/2021
Guest: Professor Mark David Hall
On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
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Faith and the Culture
Welcome to WallBuilders Live. This is the intersection of faith and the culture. We’re so glad you’re here and a part of it. We’re taking on the hot topics of the day, always from a biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective. In fact, the goal of WallBuilders is to rebuild the walls. That’s where WallBuilders comes from. That scripture in Nehemiah, arise and rebuild the walls that we may no longer be able to approach.
Of course, in our situation, in our society today, it’s the foundations, it’s the principles that make a good nation that make a good neighborhood. And that’s what we’re bringing back into the culture. We’re here with David Barton, he’s America’s premier historian and our founder at WallBuilders, and Tim Barton, national speaker and pastor, and president of WallBuilders. I’m Rick Green, former Texas legislator, and America’s Constitution coach.
David, and Tim, later in the program, Mark David Hall back with us. He’s a professor over at George Fox University. We always enjoy having him on, a lot of great books he’s put out. But we’re going to be asking him a question from one of our listeners. And it actually is a fundamental question, really every topic we cover here on WallBuilders Live has to do with this. And it’s about freedom. It’s about how do you define freedom?
Do we go with license for licentiousness, everybody do whatever you want? Or is that freedom within the context of the author of freedom, the boundaries? Zig Ziglar used to say it like that, he would say, if you live within the boundaries of what God gave us, then you get the blessings of what God gave us, and American freedom kind of works that way.
Yeah, it does work that way. But we’ve gone through real period where that we’re not sure what the definition of freedom is anymore. Freedom used to be the use of law to preserve liberty. And now it’s kind of become in some ways a libertarianism, where they keep all laws away from me, let me do what I want.
And that’s not freedom or liberty. But yet, we’ve gone through this period of redefining a lot of words and a lot of terms, so that’s not really clear what something is anymore.
Liberty Vs. Libertarianism
We’ve seen that happen, not just in the area of liberty versus maybe libertarianism, which is not even though the claim is based on liberty, that’s not the meaning of liberty. And we’ve seen that happen in so many other words as well. And we kind of forget the foundations of liberty.
And Washington, I think he really put his finger on it because he summarized both what history teaches and what the Bible teaches, and he just pointed out in his farewell address, that you’re not going to have political liberty apart from religion and morality. That has to be the basis of your political liberty.
And this is where I think libertarians get it wrong so often is they want the liberty without the religion and the morality. But without that, liberty is defined by each individual person. There’s no longer a standard: that’s a real problem to run a nation where there’s no standard.
Yeah, this was the thing that was so clear from the Founding Fathers, dad, as you already alluded to with some of the things they identified is that our nation was designed to give freedom to people, but freedom was designed to be given to people who had a moral basis. And when you don’t have that religious foundation, you don’t all have the same moral basis.
And this is one of the challenges in the libertarian ideology is that we talk about sometimes in legislation, everybody is working to legislate their morality. And so this notion that people say, well, you shouldn’t legislate morality. No, every piece of legislation is somebody’s view of morality.
I mean, even the reason that we have slower speed limits in school zones, it’s because that was immoral to somebody to say we’re going to maintain the same speed through a school zone. Everything is legislating somebody’s view of what is right or wrong. That’s all morality is, it’s what’s right or wrong.
And when you don’t have the same base common sense of right and wrong, which again, it goes back to the foundation of religion and the foundation of the Bible, when you’re saying that–
A Universal Code
Well, I mean, really, I think it’s up to people to do whatever they want to do, well, when people can do whatever they want to do, then who are you to say they’re wrong? If there is no objective standard of moral truth, if there is no universal code of right and wrong that we can look to.
And again, this is where the Bible was, when we can point to the Bible and say, hey, murder is always going to be wrong because the Bible says murder is wrong. Now what’s murder? Murder is the shedding of innocent blood. And this is where people go, well, that’s universal like everybody knows that. Really? Let’s talk about China or Russia.
Let’s talk about Afghanistan and the Taliban right now.
Right. Let’s talk about well, any major Muslim-run nation under Sharia law, I mean, you can look around the world, these are not universal truths. But you have people like major atheist spokespeople, Sam Harris, being one of them, and Sam Harris actually considered himself one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. He calls himself because there’s four atheists who were very vocal, outspoken, do a lot of kind of seminars in session…
And by the way, the four horsemen of the apocalypse is a reference to the biblical belief of what happens in the end times in the book of Revelation.
Right, from the Revelation. With that being said, Sam Harris, said that, well, we’ve all evolved to the place where we all just from evolution know the basic notion that you shouldn’t do harm to others. Now that’s the basic standard of morality is do no harm. So anything…
So that means China has not evolved yet, is it? Is that what happened?
It Becomes Complicated
This is the reality, is only someone who has largely grown up in western civilization, and more specifically, only someone who’s lived in America for their whole life could say something so dumb. Because you don’t have to go very far to realize most of the world has not, in his words, evolved to the place where they know the basic rule of do no harm. But here’s where it even becomes more complicated.
Is who determines what harm is? But we’re saying, the standard is will do no harm. Well, who determines what a harm is? This is a very, very important distinction. Because if harm at that point is subjective to the individual, well, so if there is a man who feels like a woman one day and decides to go into the woman’s restroom or locker room.
He doesn’t think he’s done any harm because he felt like a woman that day. But what about the little girls, or the women in there who feel the emotional disturbance, the emotional harm, the mental anguish? Who determines what harm is?
And this is, again, where there’s problems with these notions that well, we’ve evolved to the place to just do no harm or like libertarians, this notion well just let everybody else do what they want to do, leave me alone. Well, hang on, do what they want to do? The Founding Fathers were real clear on this notion.
It wasn’t everybody gets to do what they want to do. It was recognizing that God has given certain inalienable rights and government exists to protect those God-given rights, and you cannot infringe on someone else’s God-given right.
But if you’re going to say like a libertarian might argue, well, okay, we believe that you should respect the rights of people, and that’s the argument they have. But if there is no God, there are no God-given rights. And so there are no God-given rights, then where did the rights of people come from? They come from government.
So if there is no God, the only other option is government; and if it’s government, then government can infringe on the rights because they gave you those rights. But if there’s a God, then not only is God-given your rights, God’s also given a moral code of right and wrong.
Anyway, all this being said, there’s a lot more to this discussion and equation than what a lot of people think. And a lot of people try to oversimplify it and say, well, I should just be able to do whatever I want to do. And that’s really not the best perspective. Now, all that being said, I am saying things that guys.
Professor Mark David Hall
I mean, hopefully, we all are on the same page, and if not, it’s during the break you all can correct me and be like Tim, actually, it’s this. One of the guys who I will no qualms in acknowledging is smarter than I am is a guy named Mark David Hall, Professor Mark David Hall from George Fox University. He is a…
And we’re not saying that every professional is smarter than the rest of us.
Oh, no, no.
This one, okay…
I am amazed frequently as we travel and speak I mean, guys, you know, as we’ve dealt with professors, but some of the most frequent questions I get when we do Q&A is from professors. And often the dumbest questions I get at a Q&A at the end of the presentation come from professors.
So by and large, I don’t credential and look up to many professors, and God bless them ones that are listening. I hope you’re awesome. Not a lot of your colleagues are, right.
But Professor Mark David Hall is certainly one of the guys who has such a great perspective of biblical truth but also really understands the founding of this nation so well. So he’s a guy that we definitely can look to you to help us answer some of these questions.
Well, we’ll have Mark David Hall when we come back from the break. Stay with us, folks, you’re listening to WallBuilders Live.
A Moment from AMERICAN HISTORY
This is Tim Barton from WallBuilders with another moment from American history. After the final victory at Yorktown, the Continental Army awaited the outcome of peace negotiations with the Great Britain. Pastor Israel Evans, a chaplain in the army proposed to George Washington that they build a structure where church services could be held during the month of waiting. Washington approved the plan and urges officers to ensure that the soldiers attended service.
Pastor Evans further knew, if we were to secure the liberties they had fought for, sound education would be crucial. He declared, “Every parent and every friend of the freedom of his country ought to be attentive to the improvement of our youth in the principles of freedom and good government; and then the people will stand fast in their liberty for a long time.” Our schools today need to return to teaching the principles of freedom and good government in order for America to survive and prosper.
For more information about Pastor Israel Evans and other colonial patriots, go to wallbuilders.com.
Welcome back to WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us. Always good to have Professor Mark David Hall back with us from George Fox University. Mark, good to have you, brother. Thanks for some time today.
Oh, thank you for having me.
Hey, we had a great question from a 14-year-old in Wyoming. She said “I love listening to your podcast. It encourages me so much.” And the question is this? “What’s the definition of freedom biblically, historically, and constitutionally? I feel like the definition is all mixed up in today’s world. Thanks for all you do.”
What a great 14 year old by the way. Mark, we probably need to send her to you for four years at the university there. She sounds like somebody that would fit in great with your classes. But great question, and we thought who better to have on the Mark David Hall to answer this question?
Well, thank you very much, only affirm that is a great question to be asking. This is a very precocious 14-year-old and I would like to beat her. So I love the way she’s distinguished between different sorts of freedom, right?
So in the Bible, I think the primary freedom is freedom from sin. And I’m thinking here say of Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Free from Sin
So Jesus Christ, of course, came to Earth, fully-God, fully-man, died to pay the penalty for sin so that we can be set free from sin. And I think it’s important to note that one could have this sort of biblical freedom, even if one lived in the worst sort of totalitarian regime. If one lived in North Korea, one could still be free from sin. But fortunately, we don’t live in such a regime, at least most people likely to hear your radio broadcast.
Another very important understanding of freedom is political freedom. And I would say this is the ability to have a say in the laws that govern us. And so of course, we get to do this in the state of Wyoming, in the state of Texas, we elect representatives and these representatives with involvement and the governor make laws that govern us, and important respects to all voters have a say in those laws.
Now, it’s important to note that these laws that bind us can be more or less restrictive. Inconceivably one could live in a relatively totalitarian regime where you have a benevolent dictator who might actually make good laws, but those people would be lacking political freedom. And by the same token, a democratic people could pass laws that are restricted in inappropriate ways on civil freedoms, civil liberties. And that’s where I wanted to go next.
So when we talk about freedom, we almost immediately start thinking in terms of the Bill of Rights, and freedom from government restrictions. And here there is a critical distinction to be made between what the Founders understood freedom to be, and what we understand it to be today.
Basically, for the Founders, freedom or liberty in this context means the absence of restraint such that we can do what is right. So for the Founders, there is no right to do what is wrong. So the idea of saying, I have the freedom or the liberty to publish pornography, for instance, or to curse in public, or to burn the American flag as a form of political protest, this would have been completely alien to almost every Founder…
They didn’t see it as a license for licentiousness. They saw it as a license to do what was good and right.
That’s exactly right. They distinguish between liberty and licentiousness. James Wilson, the great Supreme Court Justice, it’s great lectures and law, says this “Law without liberty is tyranny. Liberty without law is license or licentiousness.” And by law there, he meant most civil law, but more important really moral laws. So we don’t have the right to do things that are immoral.
Now we see a huge shift in the 19th century, a shift represented very well by John Stuart Mill, the great English writer. And he basically argued that people should be free to do whatever they want, except for physically harm someone else. And you hear this all the time, right? My liberty is at the end of your nose, at the tip of your nose.
Right? So I can call you names, I can insult you, I can say bad words in public, I can burn the American flag is a form of political protest, as long as I’m not physically hurting someone else this should be protected by law.
And unfortunately, to a certain extent, the US Supreme Court went this direction in the mid-20th century. And so, for instance, permitting someone to wear in public jacket that says, “Eff El Draft”, right, even though this is very offensive to many people, and women and children, but that doesn’t matter, he’s free to do it as long as he’s not physically harming other people. And again, burning the flag is a form of protest, and on and on we could go. So we really have conflated the difference between liberty and license since the mid-20th century.
And it seems like even the terminology, community standards has come back into the language today because of, I think, sometimes abuses from social media companies, but community standards is a good thing. I mean, that’s something that we did used to say would prevent you from allowing somebody to wear that jacket in public, obscenity like that was something we didn’t want our kids to be exposed to. That seems to be lost in the American culture right now.
You know, I think that’s exactly right. So the Supreme Court used that sort of test when determining pornography and several others categories of law in the mid-20th century. And it’s largely abandoned them, but I really liked that because that reflects the very pluralistic country that we have, right?
So what might not be appropriate in Texas might be appropriate in San Francisco or something like that. So we have a system of federalism. And so, one might say that there should be different laws affecting different people with respect to things like pornography, and other elements of freedom of speech.
So you’re really saying it should be okay for it to be different in different states or localities based on that community’s particular standards?
I think so. Now, let me make a major qualification. I think we have to recognize the culture in which we’re living, and the culture in which we are living is becoming increasingly perverse. And so I worry that some communities will say things like criticizing homosexual marriage is beyond the pale, and if you do, so you’ll be put in jail.
And so because we see these sorts of shifts, certainly in my state in Oregon, and Washington and California and the East Coast states, I’m kind of rather glad that we have this relatively libertarian understanding of the First Amendment. So hopefully, this will continue to protect Americans of faith, Conservatives, enabling us to speak into the public square.
So this is not ideal. And what I guess I would say is I’m happy that we have these legal protections. But I would caution to remind Christians, that just because it’s permissible to do something doesn’t mean we ought to do it. So when we engage in civic discourse, for instance, we shouldn’t call our opponents names, not because it’s illegal, but just simply because it’s not right.
Yeah. Yeah. I wonder and this wasn’t really necessarily our topic for today. But it makes me think about this, is that those community standards, was that also part of why the Founders wanted each state allowed to be unique? In other words, you could vote with your feet and move to a particular state if the standards were different?
Was it purely like political issues? Or do you think that was also part of their thinking? What was that it’s going to be different if community to community or state to state and we should allow them to be different and not have a top down federal government approach to make everybody the same?
Article 1, Section 8
Absolutely right. And all you have to do is read the Constitution seriously, especially Article 1, Section 8. The national government was to do very few things: national defense, international affairs, a post office. Everything else should be left up to the states. So punishing almost all crimes, laws with respect to freedom of speech, but even things like freedom of religion, right.
So some states as you know, had established churches, official established churches, other states didn’t. And so if you lived in a state with an established church that you did not like, if you’re a Quaker living in Massachusetts, you could leave. You could go down to Pennsylvania to a state that did not have an established church.
And so yeah, there was a great deal of pluralism, really, in the American founding. And unfortunately, I think, in many respects, unfortunately, we’ve moved into a one-size-fits-all, either Congress or the Supreme Court will decide laws and policies for the entire United States of America, which is a mistake, because as you know, people are very different, in different states, communities are different.
Very big time different, I mean, it feels like San Francisco is calling the shots for the whole country, right, you know, the Nancy Pelosi, Kamala Harris type crowd, and to make my hometown of Dripping Springs or somewhere in Oregon, or even Oklahoma or something like that to try to make them be like San Francisco or to make San Francisco be like Texas. I mean, it’s wrong. And maybe not possible, it seems like that’s driving us apart in such a polarized way.
You know, I think that’s exactly right. And this is part of the problem of the political polarization. Because both sides and I think it’s fair to say both sides, conservatives fall into this trap too, say, we want the entire country to be governed under our vision. Whereas if we were a bit more pluralistic and let states govern themselves in most things, not everything.
We have the 14th Amendment that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, and I think that’s an excellent amendment that does bind every state and it should bind every state. But on so many of these other issues, we should allow states to make their own policies.
The Only Way to Keep the Country Together
Yeah, I think it’s probably the only way we keep the country together. So hopefully, more people will begin to think like that as well. So appreciate you, Professor.
Thanks for what you’re doing with the next generation. I applaud you for sewing these truths into the next generation and for giving us a chance to learn from you as well and our listeners. Thanks for your time today.
Yeah, thank you very much, Rick, have a good day.
You bet. Stay with us, folks, we’ll be right back with David and Tim Barton.
Hey, guys, we want to let you know about a new resource we have at WallBuilders called The American Story. For so many years, people have asked us to do a history book to help tell more of the story that’s just not known or not told today.
And we would say very providentially in the midst of all of the new attacks coming out against America, whether it be from things like the 1619 project that say America is evil, and everything in America was built off slavery, which is certainly not true or things, like even the Black Lives Matter movement, the organization itself, not out the statement Black Lives Matter, but the organization that says we’re against everything that America was built on, and this is part of the Marxist ideology. There’s so many things attacking America.
Well, is America worth defending? What is the true story of America? We actually have written and told that story starting with Christopher Columbus, going roughly through Abraham Lincoln, we tell the story of America not as the story of a perfect nation of a perfect people. But the story of how God used these imperfect people and did great things through this nation. It’s a story you want to check out, wallbuilders.com, The American Story.
We’re back here on WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us. And thanks to Professor Mark David Hall for joining us. Back with David and Tim. And Tim, I want to pick up on something you were saying at the end of our first segment because I’m like you.
Sometimes I want to run things by YouTube and make sure I’m not just kind of off on my perspective of what’s going on. But it seems like to me, exactly what you were saying about kind of libertarian view of do whatever feels good, seems like to me that’s really what’s got us in the mess we’re in now.
Because when we removed the concept of right and wrong, and limitations on the role of government and all of those things, they kind of opened this door for thinking it is okay to make people stay home, shut down their businesses, tell people when they can have church. If you remove the concepts of the biblical view of freedom, then you’re going to get, I guess what I’m saying is I feel like libertarians are part of why we ended up where we are right now. Am I blaming the wrong people here?
Well, first of all, it’s pointing out that there’s a lot of really good-hearted people who identify as libertarians. But I think there’s a lot of people who have embraced the notion of libertarian because they think that is the notion of the federal government should leave me alone. And by and large, I agree with much of that sentiment, but it’s because the federal government should be limited in capacity.
But there’s a lot of people who identify as libertarians, who would agree with us on the moral foundation, on moral truth. It’s just they’re frustrated with maybe the name of Republican or the idea of conservative on some level, so they identify there. But I do think the underlying thought of many libertarians who say, well, people ought to be able to do whatever they want, and nobody should ever tell somebody, they’re wrong. Well, that’s just a really silly statement on lots of levels.
Of course, if people do whatever they want with no moral limitations, then you live in a nation that is chaos, and it’s anarchy, and that’s not going to function and work. There has to be limitations on people’s behavior. And that’s the reason government exists, is to protect our God-given rights, and by protecting those God-given rights, they protect us from the people who would want to abuse or take away our God-given rights.
And so certainly, there should be limitations. And this is where every government, every nation, every people group are going to have some code or system of morality. It’s just a matter of what is that morality, and how well does that morality reflect biblical values?
And we have a problem now with the term libertarianism having evolved over the years to where libertarianism is, they really is that’s what’s described three times in the Bible, twice in the book of Judges, it says, every man did that which is right in his own eyes. And when you do that, you cannot have a nation. All you have is a bunch of tribes and bunch of chiefs and a bunch of people laying out their own laws.
The Law of Liberty
The Bible talks about the law of liberty. You have to have laws to have liberty. And anarchist and sometimes libertarian thought can be fairly close. But it’s like, oh, the less laws we have, the more liberty we have. No. No.
It is laws that established liberty. But you have the right kind of laws, is not happy millions of crazy laws like we have today that oftentimes are regulatory laws. That’s not it. You want laws like the Bible has: don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t perjure yourself, don’t commit rape. I mean, those are laws.
That’s what gives you liberty. It’s not like the laws we have with the IRS. That’s not what it is. So in some ways, old school-wise, we would be called civil libertarians in the sense that we think there should be liberal in government, but we’re not moral libertarians.
Well, and dad, let’s back up. There’s a story you used to tell of a lady, elderly woman who used to go and visit the jailhouse…
…And there was a jailhouse attorney, someone who’d been in jail long enough, he actually went to law school. He got a law degree in jail, and he used his law degree to try to get himself out. So he was doing every appeal he could. And so one day, he came to Esther…
And just to put perspective on this. She was probably about 93-94 at the time. She was a diminutive of lady. She was kind of bent over at the back. She was super white-haired, I mean, brilliant white-haired. And she was the epitome of everybody’s grandma.
And so she kind of shuffled her feet as she walked and kind of bent forward, but she just loved you like a grandma did. And so she loved jail ministry, for whatever reason. She loved going in with guys that were really tough and really rumble and they just loved her. She was everybody’s grandma.
The 10 Commandments
Well, so one day she was talking to one of these jailhouse attorneys, one of these gentlemen, and he pointed out, I don’t remember how many laws he said, he said, but there was thousands…
He said, Mama Esther, he said, did you know there’s 100,000 laws that will put you in jail? And without even blinking, she looked up to him and said, did you know there’s 10 laws that will keep you out of jail?
Meaning the 10 Commandments, which I love. And this is what’s interesting, dad, as you’re even saying, as kind of you look at laws, there’s laws that give liberty. But ultimately, I mean, you even look in the New Testament, Jesus said that all the laws can be summed up and love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, mind, strength; love your neighbor as yourself.
If we would just love God and love people, it would solve some of these problems. And really, it could condense the amount of laws we have and that jurisdiction.
But I love what Mark David Hall pointed out was that when you look at the Founders, their view of freedom and liberty, it was you should have the freedom to do the right thing. It’s the right to do the right thing. And this is where even as we look at government today and in America of all places, crazy.
We can look at Australia and how their governments being so restrictive on the people and arresting people. But now in America, we’re seeing people get arrested for the craziest reasons, whether it be because they didn’t wear a mask, or whatever the case might be.
Defining True Freedom – With Professor Mark David Hall
But this is whereas the Founding Fathers pointed out, and I think Mark David Hall did a great job pointing this out as well, is that the ultimate freedom and really the way law should work in America is you should have the freedom to do the right thing. And anytime the government becomes restrictive on you being able to do the right thing, that’s when the government’s really become a problem.
Alright, folks, learn more about these Foundations of Freedom at our website wallbuilderslive.com. Help us restore these foundations. Help us restore this constitutional republic.
It is a special design that the biblical foundations of our nation, that’s what made America so special, that’s what made it the most powerful, most free, most benevolent, the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind, and you can be a part of restoring it.
Makes sure you become one of our coaches and hosts these classes in your home or at your church. You can be the catalyst for a restoration of biblical principles and constitutional principles. Be sure to check it out today at wallbuilderslive.com. Thanks for listening today to WallBuilders Live.