Chapter 4 - Freedom of Worship

Posted in The Forgotten People

The Four Freedoms
Freedom of Worship

President Roosevelt's second freedom is freedom of worship. What does it mean? Do we really understand it? Do we really believe in it?

I remember having a curious conversation once at my back door with an earnest partisan who demanded to know of me - this was when I was Attorney-General of Victoria - why the Government had not prohibited a Eucharistic procession. On my mildly asking why, he opened up on me. "My ancestors," he said, "fought for religious freedom and not to have a lot of people conducting a procession that's an affront to every Protestant."

Now, though a Protestant myself, this took me aback, and when I recovered I pointed out to him - for I gathered that he was a Scotsman, - that the religious freedom for which the Scottish Covenanters fought was freedom for all, Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Gentile, and that to deny it was to go back to the dark ages of man. Religious persecution was the denial of freedom. Freedom of worship is the victorious enemy of persecution.

And so I revert to the theme of my broadcast on the first freedom - that freedom, if it is to mean anything, must mean freedom for my neighbour as well as for myself. There is nothing defiant or sectional about a demand for genuine freedom of worship, which is freedom for all.

And what does freedom for all mean? It means, among other things, that we must be free to worship or not to worship. There have been honest and indeed noble men in this world who have never been able to find a God. Are we to deny them their place? There are many men who, profoundly and instinctively religious by nature, have never been able to accept what we call "revealed religion" or the doctrine of any church. There are many millions who find a guide and comfort in life through the doctrine and authority of the church of Rome. There are millions of others who reject that doctrine and authority and, as Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, or otherwise, worship God in their own way. And so one might go on.

We are a diversity of creatures, with a diversity of minds and emotions and imaginations and faiths. When we claim freedom of worship we claim room and respect for all.

Sectarian strife is the enemy of freedom or worship, not its friend. It is the denial of Christianity, not its proof. It is indeed a poor religion which consists merely of opposing somebody else's faith, which produces not faith itself nor understanding nor tolerance nor generosity, but malice and hatred and all uncharitableness.

One of the most upright men and choicest spirits to serve the people in Parliament in my time was the late Thomas Rainsford Bavin, formerly Premier of New South Wales. Himself a Protestant, he spoke as Premier, in 1928, at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, during a Eucharistic congress. The small-minded - those to whom freedom of worship means "freedom for my kind of worship, but not yours" - complained.

But what did Bavin say? I quote his noble words:

This Cathedral embodies and represents for us those spiritual instincts, that insistent craving for something beyond and above merely material ends which, though often covered up by the dust and ashes for our everyday life, is after all the strongest force in human life - the fountain light of all our day, the master light of all our seeing.

Those instincts express themselves in many forms and in various creeds. They sometimes have led to strife and discord. This should not be so. They should, and I hope will, remind us that the things which unite us as human beings are deeper and more lasting that the things that divide us as members of different creeds. They should be a source of harmony and unity, not of discord and strife; of tolerance and generosity, not of intolerance and bigotry. For, after all, what are they but the gold chains by which the whole round earth is bound in every way about the feet of God?

The Apostle Paul had something like this in mind when he wrote his famous words: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

We saw on a previous occasion how the Nazi tyranny has struck at freedom of thought and speech; we know how it has also struck at freedom of worship. Not only is the citizen to be told how he shall think and speak of the affairs of his fellow men, but the secret communings of his spirit are also to be controlled. With all our modern cleverness - with our wireless waves and aeroplanes and almost thinking machines - we are still only on the fringes of the universe of thought. We grope out towards the light, seeing an occasional flash of beauty or of understanding, hearing occasionally the penetrating voices of reason. Civilization is in the heart and mind of man, not in the work of his hands. An in the heart of every man, whatever he may call himself, is that instinct to touch the unknown, to know what comes after, to see the invisible.

There is a great instinct in all of us for immortality. There is a consciousness in most of us that some day all will come to light and we shall be judged.

As we put out upon this vast territory of the soul, is there not room for all of us? Shall we turn aside from the search to wrangle, to attack and to defend, or shall we get wisdom and understanding, and with them tolerance, and a true freedom?

To some good people I know, tolerance means a weak evasion of the duty to denounce and frustrate evil. But they are wrong. We are bound to be enemies to evil when we see it, but we are not bound to be enemies to our fellowman. Tolerance does not mean laziness. The truly free man is tolerant, not of those corroding and corrupting things that all free men will try to destroy, but of other honest men who, hating the same evil, see a different road by which to come against it.

"In my Father's house there are many mansions." That is no reference to the architecture of a physical heaven. All it means is that there is room for all of us, so that we be honest men. Each of us has his own faith, and no mortal man may compel it or suppress it. That is, I believe, a freedom worth fighting for.

3 July, 1942