How Free Societies Commit Suicide.

The Internal Threats That Undermine Freedom.

In my first year as a university chaplain I was almost kicked off campus.

A gay-rights activist had it in for me, and for the Christian students I worked with. This gentleman didn’t like the fact we held to the Bible’s teachings (including on topics such as sexuality).

And the University authorities supported him, meaning I had to show-cause why the Christian student group and I should be allowed to stay.

(We managed to stay).

It was a very sobering time for me. A wake-up call, in fact.

In a previous life, I had served in the Australian Defence Force, where I had worked to defend Australia against external threats to our freedom.

But this activist woke me up to the fact that there are also internal threats to our most cherished freedoms.

A Free peoples suicide - coffin

And it’s these internal threats that Christian author and commentator, Os Guinness, discusses in his recent book, ‘A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom And The American Future’.

Although he discusses America, I think there are some important lessons for all free societies, particularly in the Anglosphere.

Here are 2 of his key insights:

1) Freedom Is Fragile

If It Isn’t Sustained, It Will Be Lost.

Guinness takes at look at what the Founders of the USA had to say about freedom. For them, freedom isn’t inevitable, or everlasting: rather, like good health, a healthy environment,  or a good marriage, freedom needs to be sustained.

Thomas Paine, one of the Founders, put it this way:

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.’

In much of the West today, we take freedom for granted: we’ve always been free (at least in modern times), and so, we’ll always remain free, won’t we?

Not so, according to Guinness. He writes:

Liberty is…a marathon and not a sprint, and the task of freedom requires vigilance and perseverance if it is to be sustained.’

So how do we sustain freedom? 

2) Freedom Needs To Be Sustained at Two Important Levels

At The Legal Level, And At the Popular (i.e. Citizen’s) Level.

Although freedom has to be protected from the Adolf Hitler’s and IS’s of the world, Guinness’ fear is that the internal threats are more likely to erode and destroy our basic freedoms.

Abraham Lincoln shared this very concern. Speaking to his fellow Americans, he said:

If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide’.

So how do we stop our nation from jumping off the Freedom bridge?

There are 2 important ways:

Firstly, by having a robust legal system that protects basic rights: with built-in checks and balances that keep dictators at bay;

Secondly, by being citizens who value freedom, and who live in such a way that allows freedom to last: what French political thinker Alexander de Tocqueville called the ‘habits of the heart’.

These ‘habits of the heart’ include the following:

  • Valuing the rights of others, with whom we disagree, to have a voice in the public square (freedom of speech);
  • Valuing the rights of others to freely assemble, and practice their beliefs (freedom of association);
  • Valuing others’  freedom of conscience (even when we don’t share their conscientious objections);
  • Exercising self-control, so that society remains ordered. If the majority of people don’t control themselves, an ever more powerful government will have to control them, leading to less freedom. (It will surprise many a secular reader to realise that the Founders saw Religion, i.e. Judeo-Christianity, as the best source of self-controland thus vital to a free society).

If the government maintains a robust legal system, AND if we the people keep practicing these ‘habits of the heart’, then freedom will more likely continue into the next generation.

So how’s this all this going?

Whilst Guinness writes about America, I’ll share some thoughts about the Australian situation.

3) The Australian Legal Framework Is Fragile

Basic Freedoms Are Not Well Defended. 

I’ve written elsewhere about how Australian law doesn’t adequately protect religious freedom.

But writing from a broader perspective, Professor George Williams from the UNSW writes:

[A]n extraordinary number of Australian laws now infringe basic democratic standards.

He continues:

All up, I found 350 such laws in areas as diverse as crime, discrimination, anti-terrorism, consumer law, defence, migration, industrial relations, intellectual property, evidence, shipping, environment, education and health. The scale of the problem is much larger than might be thought, and extends well beyond a few well-known examples.

And then he sounds this ominous note:

In our [Australian] system, rights usually exist only as long as they have not been taken away. This is not an issue if politicians exercise self-restraint, but if that disappears even the most important rights become vulnerable.

Couple these observations with the extraordinary move  by the Tasmanian anti-discrimination Commission last November to effectively penalise the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteus, for circulating a pamphlet within Catholic schools defending traditional marriage, and things are looking a little shaky on the legal front.

What about on the  ‘citizen’ front?

Things are looking rather sketchy there too,  when it comes to the ‘habits of the heart’ of Australian citizens.

4) Australians Don’t Value Freedom As Much As It Should Be Valued

Especially Among The Younger Generation. 

Assuming that most ideas in society have a four generation cycle of decay, the cycle of freedom can be summarised as follows:

The importance of freedom is discussed openly by the first generation, assumed by the second generation, forgotten by the third generation, and denied by the fourth generation.

If I’m reading our culture correctly (particularly the young educated uni-students whom I’ve worked with over the last six years), we’re well past the ‘first’ generation in the cycle; we’re also past the ‘second’; we’re probably in the third, and heading for the fourth.

If you think I’m being too pessimistic, just try holding a pro-traditional marriage event, or a pro-life event,  at your local secular university campus – or even public school.

Freedom from speech is more valued than freedom of speech, certainly by the younger generation.

Getting Eaten By Termites

Guinness is right to say that ‘[the] problem for upholding freedom is not wolves at the door, but termites in the floor. Unless things change, the ‘termites’ (i.e. a more intrusive government, and an indifferent populace) will further erode the basic freedoms that we take for granted.


UPDATE: It’s now 2017, a year after I wrote this post. Sadly, recent events with the Bible Society and Coopers Brewery show how easy it is for a free society like Australia to develop suicidal ideations.



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14 thoughts on “How Free Societies Commit Suicide.

  1. unfortunately, this summarises our situation. There is urgent need for folks to uncover their eyes and unblock their ears so they can see and hear what’s going on in our communities and have spine enough to stand firm

  2. Col Stringer wrote yesterday something similar,which agree with your writing Akos. Here is:

    “I spoke at an Australian Christian Party rally yesterday…..probably 100 people there, quite a few pastors….sold almost all my books…sadly, almost half were not born in this country….African. Malaysian, Thai, Burmese…..what does it take for Aussies to stand up, speak up when we are facing some of the worst things our nation has ever faced……they need a kick in the bum. It seems to me the most passionate about our country and freedom…weren’t even born here. “She’ll be right mate!” Well I’ve got news for you “mate”, it might not be!
    Jesus is Lord over Australia – not Allah, no Buddah, not the almighty dollar or sport!”

    Well ,it is sad ,but true.

  3. I am more concerned about people who commit suicide, after being hounded for who they are, than about this.

    • I would say that the suicide rate in countries without freedom is somewhat higher than in countries with freedom.

      I don’t think it’s an either/or, but a both/and.

      • I was referring to the suicide rate among people who are gay. What the Christain right is currently concerned about is its ‘right’ to speak out against gay marriage. – It is a recurring theme, including in this article, where both your introduction and your reference to Bishop Porteous, highlight this agenda. Most people in a democratic society, such as ours, do not object to freedom of speech where no one is harmed by that speech. People arc up when others *are* being harmed. Hence my reference to the plight of young people who take their lives rather than be gay in a society still homophobic in many ways. The children of Christains and Muslims are especially at risk for seeing themselves as lesser.

        • Hi Brenda,

          Thank-you for your comment.

          Just clarifying:

          1) as a citizen of a free country, should I no longer have the right to speak up politely about a public policy issue/law (i.e. defending the same view that President Obama had until 2012), because others might be offended?

          2) Are you saying that speaking up in defence of traditional marriage, no matter how politely it’s done, leads young gay people to commit suicide? If so, how did you come to that conclusion?



          • 1) Yes (if the speech is hate speech) and 2) yes.

            How did I come to that conclusion? Did you see the news yesterday? Christianity and Islam, both, must take responsibility for the massacre that occurred in Orlando.

            The time has now been and gone that same-sex attracted people have the right to equality within our society, including the equal right to marry. The Christian right has not kept up with prevailing community attitudes, which no longer condone vilification of people who are gay. It also has not kept up with the views of other Christians who respect people’s entitlement to be who they were created to be. – Being openly gay is not an impediment to practise in some Christian denominations, nor even an impediment to ordination.

            You cannot politely discriminate against someone else. It cannot be done.

            For the Christian right to be crying foul because others, including other Christians, will no longer tolerate its view is a bridge too far given, for so very long, the foul treatment of people who are gay as a result of teachings said to be Christian (as opposed to Christian teachings – the teachings of Christ).

          • Thank-you Brenda for your comment.

            Wow. I am most surprised by your answer.

            All the best,


  4. Well said Akos – I am in full agreement with your observations. I have been around for 70+ years and a mild activist in my own way in trying to protect the freedoms you mention The cultural changes I have witnessed in the past 50 years I find disturbing – there has been an erosion of true freedoms as succeeding generations forget their responsibilities to themselves and each other, a loss of commitment by so many in that vital institution the family, the tsunami of social problems that have followed – family breakdown, homelessness, drug addiction, domestic violence, and so on – btw I am not claiming that past times have been free of problems far from it, but I do see striking similarities to the 1930s – the decadence, political violence of the Left and the subsequent growth of neo nazi Right as a reaction – I tell people go watch that old movie Caberet and ponder its messages.