The Nature of Freedom

17 Mar

In my youth, the phrase “You can’t legislate morality” was popular. Moral relativism was on the rise. Even the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes (“Whatchyou talkin’ about, Willis?”) told us in its theme song, “What might be right for you, may not be right for some.” Now we have the full-fledged fruit of this kind of thinking all over our culture. Having jettisoned God as a moral authority (Personal Butler is ok, just so long as He/She does what we want) we now live in a world, in the eyes of many, with 7 billion deities, each the master of their own fate. But there’s a huge problem (besides the lack of coherence with reality): these 7 billion little gods have to live together. And if one god offends the sensibilities of another god, there is outrage, indignation, the wildest slurs and sometimes a lawsuit. The banner over our culture has thus become freedom, albeit a misshapen freedom. We have come to believe in the freedom as the license to do whatever we want. Our notion of freedom is disconnected from the freedom the founders of our nation envisioned, for they saw freedom as necessarily and inextricably tied to our Creator. Therefore, freedom was a stewardship, not a blank check. This is what has made us a great nation in our finest moments, the ability to see that freedom is not about self-indulgence but is others-centered and focused on the greater good. So I get to the heart of freedom when I realize that a black man should not be a slave. I get to the heart of freedom when I see the foolishness of separate water fountains and having to go to the back of the bus. I get to the heart of freedom when I realize that the life in the womb is fully human and is deserving of protection and the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of liberty. But in all of these cases there are decisions to be made. The slaves going free meant the slave owners were no longer free to own slaves. But in a world where freedom is not viewed as a stewardship, it is very easy to make the argument for moral equivalency and not charge the slaveowner with wrong. It is easy to elevate the mother’s right to privacy over the life of her unborn child. It is easy to say all kinds of unions should be called marriage as long as there is love and commitment. It is easy to allow anything and stand for nothing. The focus of our efforts becomes persuasion rather than moral authority. We go the way of focus groups and polls and sound bites and demonization of those who oppose us. This is what happens when freedom is no longer a stewardship given us by our Creator but is a thing to be used and abused in the name of power or pleasure or personal preference.

Where do we go from here? The fans of freedom as license warn that if we turn back to freedom as a stewardship given by God, we will turn into a restrictive society where the government is invading everyone’s body and everyone’s bedroom. But the opposite of throwing off all restraint is not a police state. Our country has been well-served by a view of freedom as stewardship. It is true that sometimes we have been stubborn and slow to realize changes which must be made to be better stewards of freedom. But ironically, it certainly seems that as society at large has embraced freedom as license, government has gotten more involved in our lives than ever, largely in order to ensure the new definition of freedom. A country where freedom is viewed as stewardship would be a country where government is put in its place as the protector of freedom but not as that entity which establishes freedom.

The truth is, we must legislate morality and almost all law is in some way a legislation of morality. The issue to consider is how our legislation and lives are mightily shaped by what we think about the nature of freedom.

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