In the halls of government the major conflict

is between the voluntary associations concerned for the general welfare and the lobbies of the major economic power groups that aim to promote or protect their “interests.”

“Freedom and Association,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

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The private economic governments, including the multinational corporations

and even some of the professional societies, have become stronger than the public governments. One is reminded of James Madison’s warning that a principal threat to democratic public government would be the inordinate power of a single faction.

“Freedom and Association,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

The coordinated power of the major corporations

enables them to maintain affluent pressure groups at all levels of government and these pressure groups exercise their power by means of a coalition (or better called collusion.)…Because of this feature of contemporary society our economy is called “interest-group democracy.”

“Freedom and Association,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

In a technological society,

in rural as well as in urban setting, the major corporations largely determine the patterns of authority, the definitions of success, the form and content of the mass media of communications, and even the perjuring policies of public government.

“Freedom and Association,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

The characteristic feature of urban society

(is) the separation of the place of work from the place of residence and the separation of these from the places of recreation and from the places of instrumental associations. Fragmentation of existence is the inevitable consequence of this spatialization of life.

“Freedom and Association,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

As Channing suggests, the voluntary principle is “a creative principle.”

It functions as a creative principle by making way for free interaction and innovation in the spirit of community. Thus the church may remain open to influence from its members, from outside the church, and from the Holy Spirit; at the same time it assumes the responsibility of exercising influence in the community.

“Freedom and Association,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

“new means and forms of communication”

This attempt (to activate the voluntary principle in new ways) involved the adoption of new means and forms of communication – the itinerant preacher, the psychic excitement of revivals, the dissemination of tracts, the distribution of Bibles, and even a new rhetoric.

“Freedom and Association,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

With the increasing number of the unchurched in all of the colonies,

the problem of maintaining church commitment became all the more acute. This commitment could not be automatically transmitted from generation to generation. What initially had been a voluntary self-sustaining church gradually became a church seeking to elicit commitment and voluntary support. A new voluntaryism had to be promoted. Faced with this change, the churches is all regions found it necessary to employ the techniques of persuasion “in order to win support and gain recruits by voluntary means.” The Great Awakening and the subsequent revivals are to be understood in part in these terms. The law of entropy could be countered only by the attempt to activate the voluntary principle in new ways.

“Freedom and Association,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

Thomas Hobbes published in 1651 Leviathan, 

the most cogent attack of the times upon the voluntary principle. In his view the church should be only an arm of the sovereign; indeed, no association of any sort was to exist apart from state control…Hobbes recognized that freedom of religious association would bring in its train the demand for other freedoms of association. His fears were fully justified. Indeed, with the emergence of this multiple conception of freedom of association, a new conception of society came to birth–that of the pluralistic, the multigroup society.

“Freedom and Association,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

The thrust toward the separation of church and state

could succeed only by carrying through a severe struggle for freedom of association. Initially, the authorities who opposed it asserted that the health of society was threatened by the voluntary principle. They held that uniformity of belief was a prerequisite of a viable social order.

“Freedom and Association,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams