Rulers who destroy men's freedom commonly begin by trying to retain its forms. ... They cherish the illusion that they can combine the prerogatives of absolute power with the moral authority that comes from popular assent.
For authority proceeds from true reason, but reason certainly does not proceed from authority. For every authority which is not upheld by true reason is seen to be weak, whereas true reason is kept firm and immutable by her own powers and does not require to be confirmed by the assent of any authority.
I have ever judged of the religion of others by their lives... But this does not satisfy the priesthood. They must have a positive, a declared assent to all of their interested absurdities. My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest.
Every event has a cause-that is ... for every event e1 there exists an event e2 (or a class of events e2, e3 ...) which precedes e1 and of which e1 is a necessary consequence.... If we assent to this statement then your "choice" to do A rather than B, whatever may have been at the time your sensation of freedom from any constraint, was entirely necessitated. You could not have done otherwise and hence, according to this conception of freedom, were not free.
To believe is not intellectual assent: "Yes, I believe in Jesus. I will sign my name to the Nicene Creed. I believe it all" - which you could do, [but] it would have no effect on who you were or what you did. It is, rather, to give your heart.
The thought of being a creator, of engendering, of shaping is nothing without the continuous great confirmation and embodiment in the world, nothing without the thousandfold assent from Things and animals... beautiful and rich only because it is full of inherited memories of the engendering and birthing of millions.
Whoever desires to remain faithful to Jesus must communicate faith as he did, not by compelling assent but by presenting it as a true answer to basic thirst. Rather than looking back nostalgically on a time when Christians wielded more power, I suggest another approach: that we regard ourselves as subversives operating within the broader culture.
We shortchange ourselves by regarding religious faith as a matter of intellectual assent. This is a modern aberration; the traditional Christian view is far more holistic, regarding faith as a whole-body experience. Sometimes it is, as W.H. Auden described it, 'a matter of choosing what is difficult all one's days as if it were easy.