Freedom of Religion as Outlined in John Bunyan’s Trial

I recently posted the text of John Bunyan’s trial before Judge Wingate. In this trial Bunyan explained his thoughts on various subjects. Here are his thoughts on freedom of religion.

JUDGE WINGATE: This Court would remind you, sir, that we are not here to debate the merits of the law. We are here to determine it you are, in fact, guilty of violating it.

BUNYAN: Perhaps, M’lord, that is why you are here, but it is most certainly not why I am here. I am here because you compel me to be here. All I ask is to be left alone to preach and to teach as God directs me. As, however, I must be here, I cannot fail to use these circumstances as an opportunity to speak against what I know to be an unjust and odious edict.

JUDGE WINGATE: Let me understand you. You are arguing that every man has a right, given him by Almighty God, to seek the Deity in his own way, even, if he chooses, without benefit of the English Church?

BUNYAN: That is precisely what I am arguing, M’lord. Or without benefit of any church.

JUDGE WINGATE: Do you know what you are saying? What of Papists and Quakers? What of pagan Mohammedans? Have these the right to seek God in their own misguided way?

BUNYAN: Even these M’lord.

JUDGE WINGATE: May I ask if you are particularly sympathetic to the views of these or other such deviant religious societies?

BUNYAN: I am not, M’lord.

JUDGE WINGATE: Yet you affirm a God-given right to hold any alien religious doctrine that appeals to the warped minds of men?

BUNYAN: I do, M’lord.

JUDGE WINGATE: I find your views impossible of belief. And what of those who, if left to their own devices, would have no interest in things heavenly? Have they the right to be allowed to continue unmolested in their error?

BUNYAN: It is my fervent belief that they do, M’lord.

JUDGE WINGATE: And on what basis, might I ask, can you make such a rash affirmation?

BUNYAN: On the basis, M’lord, that a man’s religious views—or lack of them—are matters between his conscience and his God, and are not the business of the Crown, the Parliament, or even, with all due respect, M’lord, of the Court.

However much I may be in disagreement with another man’s sincerely held religious beliefs, neither I nor any other may disallow his right to hold those beliefs. No man’s rights in these affairs are secure if every other man’s rights are not equally secure.

JUDGE WINGATE: It is obvious, sir, that you are a victim of deranged thinking. If my ears deceive me not, I must infer from your words that you believe the State to have no interest in the religious life of its subjects.

BUNYAN: The State, M’lord, may have an interest in anything in which it wishes to have an interest. But the State has no right whatever to interfere in the religious life of its citizens.

[After this Judge Wingate steers the conversation to the extent of Bunyan’s formal education.]

Bunyan argued that people should be free to worship God in any way they pleased. That would extend to people who chose to not worship God at all. While it seems odd for a Christian man to argue that we should be free to choose to worship in any way we feel proper, it really is in keeping with Christian belief.

When religion is mandated, then the option for one to have a personal relationship with God is devalued. God has given us a free will. With that freedom comes the freedom to choose whether we would love God or not. God even gives us the choice as to whether we even believe He exists or not.

When governments step in and mandate any particular religion then they are taking away the freedom of choice God has granted us. Even if the government requires us to “believe” in what we believe to be the right and true religion, it then becomes a matter of duty or obligation to believe in God. It then is no longer a personal relationship with a personal God.

I explained this passage to a friend of mine who is a baby Christian. He comes from a Catholic background and would call himself a patriot to the United States. My friend was incensed at the thought that Bunyan made concessions for Catholics and Muslims to worship God on their own terms. However, I think you have to agree that if you don’t allow for freedom of all religions, then you really have no freedom for any religion.

From the simple words of John Bunyan we can see such deep truth.