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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Is Freedom Just Another Word?

By Dan

When we hear this word, "liberty", we really ought to contemplate what is being communicated. Webster’s first definition is "The quality or state of being free." The second is similar: "The power to do as one pleases." But life does not present us with an option for genuine freedom but an option for varying levels of restraint imposed on us from varying realities. By restraint I mean that, although I am technically free to do many things, wisdom, circumstances, and prudence demand I not. Here are a few of those realities.

Physics – The laws of physics, such as Newton's First Law which holds that an object in motion will remain in motion until acted on by another force subjects us to an ever-present restraint. This means that although we are free to skydive without a parachute, we are not free to forego the consequences. We’re also free to jump into the air, but we’re not, on the other hand, free to stay in the air.

Economics – There are restraints imposed by the laws of economics as well. We are not free to drive any car we want, live in any house we want, get any health care we want, and so on. This demolishes the old adage that "freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose".

Biology – Now, while having nothing to lose may free me from certain material consequences that result from imprudence or folly, it doesn’t free me from the restraints imposed on me by my flesh. Having nothing includes having no food or shelter without which I am not free to survive.  I am coerced by a predicament; either work for food and shelter or force someone else to work and provide them for me. Well... actually there is a third choice. I could just die. I am free to do that. Or am I?

There are, of course, other restraining phenomenon. There is the will of the majority as expressed through laws and cultural mores which give us the free choice between compliance or fines, imprisonment or ridicule. There are also family expectations which give us the choice between forgoing our own desires in favor of those who love us, or doing, as Webster put it, as we please.

The bottom line is that we are free agents in a society of free agents. And while it’s true that we are all free to cast off restraint and live with reckless abandon, we are not free to avoid the consequences. We are not free to avoid them for ourselves and we are not free to avoid their impact on others. Scripture clearly demonstrates this with a question: "Can a man walk on hot coals and not get burned?" The fool tells himself yes. And, like the fool who manages to convince himself for two seconds that he can fly, we now find ourselves in the midst of a culture that has convinced itself that the restraints maintained and refined by generations past can now be cast off without consequence. In the end however the fool’s feet are pulled helplessly back to earth, and they are indeed burned.

Wisdom, on the other hand, understands that true liberty is the freedom to govern the self, the freedom to do what we ought. For this reason it holds ideas like duty, honor, and self-denial in high regard. When these ideas become passé and the butt of jesters’ jokes, the fool has come of age and liberty then abides in peril.

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