I read books.

A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (Os Guinness )

on February 12, 2013

Book Club tonight will discuss this serious treatise on the demise of the American Republic and what Guinness proposes can be done to avert the seemingly inevitable.
Below are my pulled quotes and a few thoughts on the parallel with the American church.

Guinness, Os. A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012.

From the Augustine of Hippo:

Suppose we were to define what it means to be a people not in the usually way, but in a different fashion such as the following: a people is a multitudinous assemblage of rational beings united by concord regarding loved things in common. Then, if we wished to discern the character of any given people, we would have to investigate what it loves…Surely it is a better or worse people as it is united in loving things that are better or worse.  –City of God, quoted in A Free People’s Suicide(front leaf)


Freedom is unquestionably what Americans love supremely, and love of freedom is what makes Americans the people they are. Thus the present crisis of sustainable freedom raises questions about the health of the American Republic that must be taken seriously….Freedom is, and will always be, America’s animating principle and chief glory, her most important idea and her greatest strength. But unless sustained, freedom could also prove to be America’s idol, something trusted ultimately that cannot bear ultimate weight. (17)

Three challenges:

1.  Historical:

…Freedom always faces a fundamental historical challenge. Although glorious, free societies are few, far between and fleeting. In the past, the high view of human dignity and independence that free societies require was attained by only two societies with world influence: the Greeks with their view of the logos, or reason within each person, and the Jews with their notion of the call of God to each person. The roman ways owed much to the Greeks, of course, just as contemporary humanists owe everything to the Jewish, Greek and Christian ideas from which they come and on which they depend. (19)

2.  Political:

Free societies must maintain their freedom on two levels: at the level of their nation’s constitution and at the level of their citizens’ convictions…If the structures of liberty are well built, they last as long as they are properly maintained, whereas the spirit of liberty and the habits of the heart must be reinvigorated from generation to generation…(19)

3.  Moral:

…Freedom always faces a fundamental moral challenge. Freedom requires order, and therefore restraint, yet the only restraint that does not contradict freedom is self-restraint, which is the very thing that freedom undermines when it flourishes. Thus the heart of the problem of freedom is the problem of the heart, because free societies are characterized by a restlessness at their core. (20)

The core problem can be expressed like this: Such is our human propensity for self-love—or thinking and acting with the self as center—that the virtue it takes for its citizens to remain free is quite unnatural. (21)

What kind of people do you think you are?

American’s grand promotion of debt-leveraged consumerism has stood Max Weber’s famous thesis about the rise of capitalism on its head. It has scorned the early-American stress on hard work, savings, thrift and delayed gratification, and turned Americans into a nation of perpetual debtors who are now chided even by the Chinese and the Indians for their irresponsibility and “addiction to debt.” (25)

America’s fabled economic dominance has masked the fact of its dire financial indebtedness and therefore of the severe constraints on its real freedom. Few, if any, superpowers in history have been in deeper debt than the United States today….American citizens consuming more than they save and with the government spending more than it earns and promising to spend still more… (29)

The American way, far from the last best hope for the world, is becoming a riot of indulgent freedom that is anything but positive and liberating. ”License they mean when they cry liberty.” John Milton warned. (30)

There is a straightforward reason why the United States is vulnerable to such a crisis of cultural authority. As the world’s first new nation, American is distinctively a nation by intention and ideas. Unlike most other nations, the core beliefs that make up American identify and character do not trail off into the mists of antiquity, and they are not the product of centuries-old habits of the heart. Taking off from their sturdy seventeenth-century beginnings, they arose in a sunburst of brilliant thinking and daring institution-building by a generation whose vision charted the course of America’s meteoric rise to greatness. (31)


…Unlike the ancients, who saw time as cyclical, they were shaped by the linear worldview of the Bible and the Enlightenment. Thus, like contemporary Americans, they were optimistic. But unlike most Americans today, their optimism was never at the expense of a holiday from history. (72)

Respect for the great thinkers of the past: The exiled Machiaelli actually changed into his best clothes to enter into his nightly reading conversation with the ancients (73)

We don’t even dress for church or special dates any more with living people!

“We Americans seem to know everything about the last twenty-four hours…but very little of the past sixty centuries or the last sixty years.”  Bill Moyers, quoted in (74)

Montesquieu: “To comprehend modern times well, it is necessary to comprehend ancient times well.”

Churchill: “The longer you can look back, the further you can see forward.” (74)

Ted Hughes (poet) “Decay of libraries is like Alzheimer’s in the nation’s brain.” (75)

Patrick Henry “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.” (75)

Rousseau “If Sparta and Rome perished, what state can hope to endure forever?” (86)

The United States is in its very early days as a superpower. 230+ yrs. old (87)

Modern people believe that labor-saving technologies and instantaneous communication have brought them closer to conquering time as they have conquered space. According to such thinking, they are increasingly masters of their lives, their world and now even of time itself. Do they not have perpetual health and sustainable life almost within their grasp, both for themselves and for their institutions? (88)

Against such foolish thinking, the plain fact is that progress in science and technology does not mean progress in morality and humanity. (88)

Will time stand still for the United States any more than it idid for Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Rome or Greece?…Will the giant figure of Lincoln in his memorial last longer than the Roman Consuls on whose curule chair he was placed? (89)

CURULE: relating to or being a high-ranking dignitary of ancient Rome entitled to occupy a special chair

: of, relating to, or being a chair or seat reserved for Romans of high rank that resembles a backless stool with curved legs; also : of, relating to, or being a 19th century seat with legs of a similar style


The postmodern mind, in contrast to the modern, is obsessed with relativism and fragmentation. In this view, time is neither linear nor cyclical. It is pointillist – like truth and certainties of all kinds, it is pulverized into a thousand scattered points, each unrelated to the others and to the past and future. There is no building on the past to construct the future. There is no building at all.In fact, there is no duration, bond, tie or commitment. There is only the endless succession of the fleeting now and is array of endless choices that open the future. So there are only separate moments, episodes, rather than stories, fragments rather than buiding blocks, shifting kaleidoscopes rather than meaningful narratives….the old is obsolete and the past is a ball and chain. (89)


Misunderstanding of the phrase “The Past is Prologue “ carved on National Archives

Often thought to mean” it’s all about us!”  – really means we are standing on the shoulders of what has gone before, and being all the wise for their wisdom (92)

Character of George Washington –

The American Revolution would not go the way of other revolutions. Washington was a victorious over the temptation to Caesarism at Newburgh as he had been over the British at Yorktown. (from I Wish I Had Been There )

GW was “the indispensable man” of the AR, and was so “by force of his character rather than his ideas or his eloquence. ..He was a one-man check and balance on the abuse of power, and decisively so well before the Constitution framed the principle in law.

Montesquieu ”Great men who are moderate are rare & it is always easier to follow one’s impulse than to arrest it…

Lincoln: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man, give him power.”

GW shone even brighter when he became president

Even King George III was impressed – when told GW would retire after the war, he said  “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” (95)

Sustainable freedom depends on the character of the rules and the ruled alike, and on the vital trust between them—both of which are far more than a matter of law. The Constitution…should be supported and sustained by the faith, character and virtue of the entire citizenry… (99)

Leadership without character, business without ethics and science without human values—in short, freedom without virtue will bring the Republic to its knees. (101-102)

Eugene Ormandy, director of the Philadelphia Orchestra “People always ask me where I was born. I was born at the age of twenty-one, when I arrived at the United States.”

Would he visit the town where he was born  (in Poland)? “What for?”

Reminds me of the couple we met at the Holocaust museum  – in 1954, when we arrived in God BLESS America…we finally knew what it was to be safe and free.

Europe is moving toward “cosmopolitan, global vision and the United States pressing toward its own vision of ‘hegemonic liberalism’.

hegemonic = ascendancy or domination of one power or state within a league, confederation, etc, or of one social class over others

Europe relapsing into “irresponsible, near-utopian pacifism, while sheltering under the shield of American arms. (132)

But Europe has tradition that holds it together, whereas America is vulnerable to a crisis of cultural authority because it is a nation by intention and by ideas and it relies so deeply on them. (133)

Postmodernism: The founders, not heroic pioneers of freedom with a tragic blind spot, but dead, white, European, male slave owners whose hypocrisy vitiates their claims about freedom. (140)  Nietzsche (1880’s) – advocates do not believe in truth or objective moral standards, of any kind. Instead, all that was once considered objectively rue or right and good is now seen as a cover for power, or some interest or agenda. Everything is therefore relative and socially construction; nothing is what it appears to be; and the outcome is a giant game of suspicion, skepticism, or cynicism (141).

No great country or civilization will endure if its intellectual leaders and opinion shapers are at odds with what made the country or civilization what it is, particularly in such a wholesale way. (141)


Ayn Rand: Man’s destiny is to be a self-made soul.” (155)

Secular view of freedom “blends easily into the scientific revolution” – but ignores the  fact  the modern scientific revolution came out of a Christian matrix and was pioneered almost entirely by devout Christians such as Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Rober Boyle and Isaac Newton


Problems of the current day:

Hubris – seeing ourselves as the rest of the world sees us (personal application in Guatemala? – taking care to respect those we go to serve, and not have a know it all attitude??)

Most Americans are dangerously UNAWARe of what is going on in the rest of the world (183) – HOW TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM – news media not helpful!

Guinness’ solutions:

  1. Teach a true liberal education, including a return to”citizenship”
  2. Reinstitute vigorous public square discussions
  3. Checks and balances in all spheres
  4. Restore the integrity and credibility of faith and ethics

The role of the CHURCH? #’s 1 and 4  can be addressed in a big way – and may make a dfference in the culture. But if NOT, it will still make a difference in the CHURCH!

Parallels in the modern church

  1. Individualism
  2. refusal to consider the good of the group over the individual
  3. lack of self-control and self-limiting on freedom (license)
  4. lack of strong foundation for truth, rather than “my truth”
  5. hubris in dealing with other believers, churches, and ethnos (Guatemala, missions in general)
  6. Ignorance of the past and of Biblical history – how has God worked in the past? What can we expect Him to do in the future?
  7. consumerism – what am I getting out of this??
  8. lack of connection with tradition – the new and improved trumps the “old and obsolete”
  • neophiliacs – lover of all things new, easily bored and desirous of constant change

My big take away from this book is – “How should we then live?” – to steal a famous quote from Francis Schaeffer…as strangers and aliens – our country is the Kingdom of God. We should work to be salt and light in the culture without despairing of its imperfection or even its downfall. THIS IS NOT OUR HOME!

I Peter 2: 9-20

9But you are A CHOSEN RACEA royal PRIESTHOODA HOLY NATIONA PEOPLE FOR God’sOWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;10for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

    11Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.12Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

    13Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,14or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.15For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.16Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.17Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

18Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.19For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.20For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.





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