Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

Why Freedom is not Doing What You Want

July 2nd, 2014 3 comments

freedomFreedom for most Americans has dissolved into a license to do whatever you want to do. We often try to make it more noble and palatable by adding the rejoinder, “as long as it is between consenting adults” or “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.”

When it comes to legislation, especially legislation dealing with those thorny “social issues,” we are told to “stop legislating morality.” For a growing number of Americans, freedom means “stay out of my life and don’t try to tell me what to do” [That is, unless you are going to give me free stuff or pay for my abortions].

Of course this modern conception of freedom is light years away from the understanding held by those who formed our great nation. Freedom was understood as the ability to make virtuous choices. Choice, in and of itself, is not virtuous. We  are capable of choosing  a host of hideous and shameful behaviors [e.g. abortion, adultery, and addiction etc.) in the name of personal liberty. It’s what we choose, and not the act of choosing, that matters.

Of course the only way to “not legislate morality” is to give up legislating altogether. Someone’s morality guides the formation of each and every statute. The question we should be asking is what system of morals leads to maximum human flourishing?

Our Founders recognized that is was God who determined the proper bounds of our liberty. Liberty without responsibility is merely a license for licentiousness. The foolish disregard of God’s clear commands was not a demonstration of personal freedom. Rather, it was, and is,  a fast track to becoming  a slave to your own selfish passions. This is why founding father, John Witherspoon said, “Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country.”

James Madison, the architect of our Constitution, affirmed, “the belief in a God All Powerful, wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the World and the happiness of man…”

Thomas Jefferson, the inspiration behind our Declaration of Independence reminded us that God was the source of our liberties. He wrote, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people, that these liberties are a gift from God? that they are violated but with his wrath?”

John Quincy Adams, our sixth president and an ardent champion of liberty, reminds us of the unbreakable tie between God’s law and human freedom. He writes,

“This principle, that a whole nation has the right to do whatever it pleases, cannot in any sense whatever be admitted as true. The eternal and immutable laws of justice and morality are paramount to all human legislation. The violation of those laws is certainly within the power of a nation, but it is not among the rights of nations.”

For America to be great, Americans must be good. For Americans to be good, we must joyfully submit to God and to His Truth. Even as the whole can be no greater than the sum of its parts, America will only be free when her citizens reject the failed ethic of irresponsible individualism and embrace the responsibilities, both God and others, incumbent upon a free people.

Freedom’s Two-Sided Coin

December 5th, 2012 4 comments

In our understanding of liberty, it is important to revisit an important debate dating all the way back to the Middle Ages. Freedom, according to the ancient argument, can be defined in two different, yet equally important, ways.

To use the analogy of a common coin, whether you call heads or tails, it’s still the same coin. The coin of freedom can be defined positively or negatively. Negative freedom is freedom FROM. This side of freedom’s coin emphasizes the freedom from restraint, constraint or interference.

Positive freedom, on the other hand, is freedom FOR. We must have freedom to pursue whatever ideals, goals or visions we have before us.

While our founders understood the inherent tension between these two sides of the coin, they realized that both are necessary if freedom is to be preserved. Neither is complete without the other. A freedom from, without a freedom for, is a freedom without a point of reference. In other words, what is the whole point of freedom if we have no overarching vision? We may be free, but free for WHAT?

When we overemphasize negative freedom, we end up with a very individualistic, private hybrid which exalts personal expression (freedom from) to the neglect of public responsibility. We see this imbalance in our American republic today. Freedom often means, “Stay out of my business” or “Leave me alone.”

The problem with this imbalance, as Guinness points out, is that “unconstrained negative freedom can easily degenerate into apathy and moral callousness, for what begins as freedom from interference easily slides into the freedom of indifference.” My plea to stay out of my business often leads to an attitude where I could care less about your business. The result is a callous indifference for others ending in the death of true community.

When Freedom = Choice

November 29th, 2012 No comments

When freedom is reduced to mean simply the license to do what we want, when we want, then “choice” becomes the cardinal virtue. Freedom becomes synonymous with the right to choose. Choice itself, rather than the content of our choice, becomes the virtue. We end up valuing choice instead of making good choices.

This is readily apparent in the modern debate over “women’s reproductive rights” where a woman’s absolute right to choose what she wants to do with her own body trumps any other moral considerations. It makes no difference that her choice will involve the destruction of her own child. The choice itself is what makes the action virtuous, even though it involves trampling the rights of the tiny woman within her own womb.

This is why our forefathers built our legal system on the transcendent truth found in God’s Word. For them, freedom was not merely the ability to choose, but rather the power to choose what is right and good. These terms – right and good – have no meaning apart from an absolute standard. After all, what is “right” and what is “good”? Who defines the meaning of these terms?

Historically, that standard was found in the character of God and His revealed truth found in the Scriptures. If there is no standard by which to measure our freedom, then freedom becomes whatever you want it to be. The tolerance of choice becomes the chief virtue, and truth is “trampled in the streets” (Isaiah 59:14-15). The result is moral anarchy masquerading as enlightened freedom.

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