Heather [Mac Donald] writes: “I simply don’t know what to make of…the president claim[ing] that freedom is God’s gift to humanity.” Oh, come on. Bush is offering here a conscious echo of the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In other words, Bush is harkening back to the foundational document of the United States, the political source of our universalist conviction. That’s what to make of it.  ~John Podhoretz

I suppose people who wrongly think that the Declaration is the “foundational document of the United States” (the ratified Constitution established the Union and to that extent “founded” the United States) will also put incredibly great store by the platitudes in its first two paragraphs.  But I have to say that I am more with Ms. Mac Donald and the skeptics when they express puzzlement at the strange formulations of Mr. Bush.  This is not because I am skeptical about God’s role in history, as they are, but because I am skeptical that God has given ”freedom”–except in the most important ways of the Redemption and Resurrection–to all mankind.  Indeed, moral freedom as it is frequently defined today in terms of self-will and choice is fundamentally the opposite of the free will that God created in man.  According to St. Maximos, our free, natural will freely wills the Good and obeys God; our choosing will (gnomikon thelima) is simply man’s fallen indecision and hesitation about willing the Good.    

It is reasonable to see the blessings of liberty as God’s gift to any particular people who enjoy those blessings, and it makes sense for free people to give thanks to God for those blessings, much as they would give thanks for any of the other myriad blessings that God gives to a peaceful, bountiful nation, but it does not make sense to assume that this liberty is therefore automatically or necessarily given to all men, that specifically political ”freedom is God’s gift to humanity”–when it clearly is not.  This is to make the truly significant and meaningful deliverance that God has given us through His Son only one part of the deliverance.  If we believe Mr. Bush, God also has a sort of program of earthly liberation.  It is an attempt to immanentise the spiritual liberty of Christians as political liberty, while at the same time stripping this liberty of any association with revelation.  It is a modern gnostic error.  Though the statement is brief, it is also strangely reminiscent of liberation theology in which the Gospel serves as a means of legitimising social and political revolution.  As well as being Mr. Bush’s ideology, this phrase is a rhetorical gimmick to baptise revolution with the appearance of holiness and to keep conservative religious Americans from raising objections to the fundamentally revolutionary and liberal nature of Mr. Bush’s entire enterprise.  If we judge by looking at who still supports his foreign policy, the gimmick seems to be working.    

It is also correct to say that because God made man in His image and likeness that man is free in a way relatively like unto God’s freedom, but this means that man is autexousion, and has free natural will, and not that God invests man with any “rights” with respect to political constitutions.  Perhaps Mr. Bush is thinking of the Declaration when he makes his far-fetched, enthusiastic claim, but just as there is no reason to put great store by those “self-evident truths” (which were not at all evident to generation upon generation of Christians) there is no reason to put much store by Mr. Bush’s odd, quasi-heretical view. 

The more basic difficulty that skeptics and believers alike have to have with Mr. Bush’s formulation is a difficulty that crops up again and again as conservatives keep trying to make the dysfunctional marriage of Enlightenment social and political philosophy and Christianity work through increasingly strained and incredible rhetoric.  Mr. Bush’s God of Freedom in the end has little more to do with the living God of Scripture, the One God in Trinity, than does Robespierre’s Supreme Being or the clockwork god of the Deists.  One wonders, of course, whether Mr. Bush really believes that Muslims also worship this same God as he has claimed in the past about the common worship of Muslims and Christians (”different routes to the Almighty,” indeed!).