An important point of freedom is not having to make sacrifices for people who don’t make sacrifices for you.Sebastien Junger, Freedom. (HarperCollins, 2021), p. 116
While I understand the sentiment expressed by Sebastien Junger above, it has an equally valid flipside: One of the qualities of freedom is freely choosing to make sacrifices for people who don’t, or can’t, make sacrifices for you. As Jesus once said (paraphrasing), “What credit is it to you if you love only those who love you back?”
If we have paid any attention to what we have seen manifested across the world over the last several years of Pandemic restrictions, demonstrations invoking freedom from government control of our personal lives, attempted insurrections in several flagship nations of democracy (e.g., the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, France), and now a terrible war of naked aggression in Europe against an aspiring democratic Ukraine, we may have awakened to the precarious fulcrum on which the whole treasure of freedom is centered.
A few things should have come into focus by this point:
- This side of Paradise, there is no such thing as “pure”, “absolute” freedom. Even in Paradise/Heaven, God defines what can and cannot be included and permitted. And if you’re not fond of having God tell you what you’re allowed to do, try the Dragon with the red tights on as a democrat!
- Freedom is always relative and counterpoised by the obligations and responsibilities of its possessors towards all others who have equal rights to enjoy its benefits. Asian people seem to have less problem with this point than we “free-wheeling” Western types.
- Legal and political freedoms do not equate to economic and social equality or treatment in the warp and woof of life.
- No matter how “free” they may be in other respects, everyone is a slave to something: an addiction – even if just “trivial”, like caffeine – their own failings and limitations, and inescapable spiritual brokenness,
- Even in the freest society imaginable, human and physical nature circumscribe all freedoms of whatever sort in this world;
- Death ends all freedoms and holds everyone in its thrall;
- God alone is truly free and independent of all limitations, except those He/She imposes on Him/Herself.
Being the sort of essentially self-absorbed creatures we are, most of us experience heightened awareness of what restricts and constrains us only when someone (government, some group, some oppressive individual) impinges on our personal sphere and puts the screws to what we have learned or decided are our “rights” and comfort zones. Where the boundaries are for this is largely dependent on our worldview and our social environment – what our significant others (family, friends, communities of association), tell us is a violation, what our community informs us are our rights and obligations, despite personal wishes and preferences. Few of us have the desire, will, and strength to set ourselves apart from this context in deciding when to take action to resist impingements.
Simply put, our society and community inform us about what freedom is and when we are gaining or losing it. This alone should dispel the nonsense we hear so often about “you can do anything you want”, or “you can choose to be/become anyone/anything you want”. No one has ever been able to enjoy that kind of liberty. Let us accept this and give up fantasized “freedoms” to create “a new me” independent of psychology, heredity, and biology. Too many have created and attempted to inflict their fantasies on everyone else by guilt and shame about their resistance. In our fragile hold on reality, we confuse the issues and pollute our legal and educational institutions with spurious, destructive, counter-productive, clumsy, absurd, and highly expensive attempts at social-engineering.
No amount of this, no matter if it is advocated by the most “enlightened” and vociferous elements of Ultra-Progressive ideology, and then legislated in fear or misguided magnanimity, will change the fundamentals of who and what human beings are and are meant to be according the Creator’s design. At some point, regular folks just get worn out by it and will react and reject the denial of Nature itself. If the offence has been strong and long enough, the “deniers” may be so offended and worn out that violence may erupt.
Certainly, people are “free” to live as they choose, describe themselves as they choose, as long as they respect others’ freedom to do likewise and treat them with the same circumspection as they so vehemently and loudly declare they expect to be treated. Certainly, they should not be treated as minorities have so often and wrongly been treated, suffering legal, social, and political ostracism and persecution. But on the other side, it is wrong to reverse the standards of the whole to please a very small part and begin to exclude and offend and persecute those who openly object and hold contrary views. “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword” – the literal sword, the legal sword, the economic sword, the social-engineering sword. “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” – sooner or later. This is true in the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual realms. Newton’s Law is not just about Physics.
How then are we to move forward in this crisis of Freedom we as a global society face at this now critical point in the tumultuous 21st Century? Will Freedom convoys and occupations by angry proletarians who have come to the conclusion they are being oppressed and driven out of the few points advantage they feel they have enjoyed restore lost freedoms, or force new ones to be accepted? Is the path forward via massive government programs promising improvements to social benefits and whole new sets of government expenditures to appease the restless masses? Will these change the sense of disentitlement and disenfranchisement of those who see their living standards being swallowed by masses of debt, both old and new – all the while watching the rich grow ever richer and the powerful becoming ever more arrogant as they decreed to the lesser classes, “Trust us! We know just what you need”?
Neither path will resolve the restlessness and sense of encroaching oppression seething within. Not that real exterior injustice and oppression shouldn’t be called out and opposed. But that story is never done – there is always another infraction of rights, always more injustice. The illusion is that some sort of constant social tinkering or economic philandering will fix it. As Jesus once said, “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have Me.” This is not because He has abandoned us, but because we have abandoned Him, or choose not to listen.
As we pointed out previously in this series, the fundamental problem is the brokenness each one of us carries. This leads everyone, at some point, to act unjustly and abusively. If it becomes habitual, then you have real oppression. It is when the outrage is allowed to explode on a mass scale and take control of the agenda that societies are rocked and nations are thrown into turmoil.
The illusion we live with is that we can engineer a system according to some final set of enlightened principles, such as neo-Marxism or neo-liberal Capitalism, or the popular hybrid form of social democracy married to capitalist ideology in Western societies. None of these will end the incipient us—vs—them way of relating and keep the perpetual underclasses soporifically stable so the “better, right sort” of people who are ordained to lead or just enjoy the just fruits of their labor can get on with having their cake and eating it too.
The illusion is that by human-engendered wisdom we can create Utopia. It is an illusion because there is no final peace unless we are reconciled to the Creator, who made us with a hole in our soul that only He/She can fill. Peace within is reconciliation with the Supreme Person who alone can erase our brokenness which drives us to wage continual war upon one another and upon the creation itself. That primal reconciliation dispels the Big Lie that only I, or at most I and my special group, deserve to be really free. That primal reconciliation leads us to be reconciled to the Creation itself so that we can respect the rights and freedoms of all created things in their own nature and place within the Cosmos.
As we close this set of reflections on this unending topic, here are two thoughts to ponder:
“Our hearts, O God, can find no rest till we find our rest in You.” – Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo, ca. 410 CE.
“Man is made with a God-shaped vacuum in his soul.” – Blaise Pascal, ca. 1650 CE
May you be ever vigilant in discerning the blind alleys that do not grant freedom, but only a reversal or replacement of oppressions.
May you learn how to protect the righteous, limited freedoms we are given to enjoy in our sojourn on planet earth.
May you find your way to the true freedom which only Yeshua Messiah brings.
And may we all remember that we must love our neighbors (even our ruler neighbors) as ourselves if we claim to be followers of Jesus and children of God,