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Freedom 3: Freedom and Security

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”                                 - Benjamin Franklin

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”                                                                                                                                                - John Adams

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.”
                                                                           -William Shedd (theologian, historian)

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”                                                                                                                                        - St. Paul, Galatians 5:1

“…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
                                                                           -St. Paul, I Thess 4:10-11

You may have guessed that the whole TSA hullabaloo is the impetus for these posts on freedom. It truly is a thorny issue. On the one hand, it is folly to willfully fail to take proper security measures. On the other hand, it is possible to go too far and be too arbitrary, and to pursue the appearance of extreme security, rather than dealing with a real problem in a realistic way.  I realize I’m tipping my hand here, yet I’m hard pressed not to. Nonetheless, I will try to avoid polemics and stick to principles.

When there is a society of moral agents exercising their ability to influence their environments, conflict will arise as I’ve said previously. Thus, someone’s freedom will always suffer infringement in the course of having a just and peaceful society. Of course, someone’s freedom will always suffer infringement in an unjust and conflict-ridden society. This is exactly my point, in fact. When society exists, someone’s freedom will be curtailed. The question then becomes, who’s freedom and by how much? Naturally, we tend to want our freedom protected, even at the expense of someone else’s. We want our way to prevail.

Thus, the rule of law is established to set up a balance of freedom and order, and in general, the spectrum runs from anarchy to robotic determinism. One thing that has made Western Civilization so successful is that democratic republics have found a way to have an ordered society with an amazing amount of individual freedom that is pretty unique in human history. The Adams quote above reveals the secret ingredient—individuals who are willing and able to police themselves.

Yet, when someone (or some group/entity) is bent on forcing their will on others and to their hurt, OR, people who have confused freedom with license, the balance is upset, and society can lose its equilibrium. Government must maintain order—that is its function. The more disordered the society, the more power the government must exert in order to fulfill its function.

Ideally, as order is restored, an altruistic government relaxes the power it exerts, allowing its citizens to resume their normal levels of freedom and self-policing. There are two (three) parts to this equation.

First, the government must be altruistic. If it is not, then it is more prone to maintaining higher levels of interference in personal liberty. This occurs for at least two reasons—1) ease and 2) power. 1) Once you have established control of a situation, it is easy to maintain the system that achieved that control. Similarly, there is a momentum that large systems achieve that results in the development of bureaucracy. 2) Letting go risks losing the control, and having to re-establish it. Also, government can become addicted to power, even if it was altruistic to begin with, and thus desire to shape society in such a way that its power is maintained, because it now sees itself as a self-aware entity rather than a guardian of its citizens and their liberties.

Second, the citizens must desire liberty. It seems that God created us for interdependence. That is one of the lessons of Genesis 2. “It is not good for the man to be alone. Let us create a helper fit for him.” The problem with interdependence in a fallen world is that it can be easy to slip into independence (ye olde rugged individualism that has been a hallmark of the American psyche, especially in the western US) or go the other extreme into dependence/codependence. When long term crises arise, and we are forced to depend on someone else more than we are accustomed, it can become a habit, and we lose the desire and eventually the ability to get back on our own feet. It is the responsibility of an altruistic helper to wean the helped off of the help if they are unwilling to do it themselves, and thus get back to healthy interdependence. When the helper fails to do this, problems multiply. Paul even said as much in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-13: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat. We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.” It is apparent that doing good for the helped is to get back on their own, and doing good for the helper is to make sure the helped does so. Interdependence is like a flexor/extensor pair of muscles that can atrophy or become overdeveloped if not exercised properly.

(The third part to the equation is the citizens must be willing and able to police themselves. When they are not (or there are external entities seeking to disrupt things) then even an altruistic government must be more proactive.)

When all parts of the equation get out of balance, a negative feedback loop can be established, causing the whole society to spin out of control. I believe that is what we are seeing happen here. We have folks (terrorists) who are seeking to destroy our society. We have a government that believes it is capable of solving all of our problems, and therefore should. We have a citizenry that has had 100 years of stress, starting with the Great Depression, then the Cold War, and now the War on Terror and the Great Recession, and have learned to turn to government to solve those problems and have become accustomed to that, rather than seeking to solve the problems themselves or as groups of citizens. Interestingly, the great prosperity that arose between the economic crises has contributed to the problem by providing easy comfortable lives, such that our problems have been more with lifestyle than with life, leaving us unprepared for hardship. Momentum is building, so that those who desire to be free to self-determine are viewed as weird, and very likely dangerous.

I’d like to argue that the Biblical concept of freedom seeks to restore interdependence on each other as human beings and God, rather than on programs and government agencies. Even Paul’s admonishment to lead quiet lives contains this idea—that we are to be active and proactive agents in the living of our lives. His comment in Galatians about freedom and slavery are in the context of being slaves to the Mosaic Law. He is arguing that we are to live in Christ and the freedom of a relationship of respect and love rather than rules—thus, we are to be self-policing. In Romans, he spends a lot of time discussing how sin and the Law feed on each other, and it sounds remarkably and eerily like the negative feedback loop I see in our current society.

God made us robust. We can certainly live in palaces and lead lives of luxury. Yet, like the ships in Shedd’s harbor, staying there denies us the freedom of the seas, the freedom to live with some risk and watch God’s grace and faithfulness abound. When we exercise, we tear muscle fiber, and it is in the healing that they become stronger. May I argue that culturally, we are in danger of being societal couch potatoes, and it is time to force ourselves to be more responsible for our own lives, and encourage others to do the same? Yes, it is more risky, and we each may be more likely to be faced with discomfort, sacrifice, or even death. But what are we living for? This life alone? If so, then we are to be pitied, or even spewed out from this land of liberty and safety.


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