Our Love/Hate Relationship with Freedom
Here’s a trick question. Given the choice between “Freedom” and “Enslavement”, what would you say is your preference?
Careful. I said it’s a trick question.
Did you by any chance fall for my trick and choose “Freedom”? If so, you’re playing right into my hand, so thank you. Read on. If not, well, you’re here anyway, so you might as well keep reading, too.
The thing is, we say we love our freedoms. But I say we really don’t.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say, given the choice, we actually prefer enslavement.
Oh yes, I’m serious.
You see, freedom, in its purest, most unadulterated form, is a terrible thing.
And yes, I know you think you love it.
But you really don’t.
Trust me. It’s true.
We kind of hate freedom.
You read that right. Hate it. Revile it. Abhor it. Despise it.
“What!” you say? That’s crazy talk! Sacrilege, even. Why, the very idea of life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness is woven into the fabric of who we are as a people. We cherish our freedom, after all. It is the banner under which all that we hold dear thrives and survives in these trying times, for goodness sake. We sing about it, revel in it, boast of it, even worship it… For the love of Lee Greenwood, man, we are AMERICANS! We invented the whole idea, did we not? Ok, maybe it was William Wallace, as portrayed by Mel Gibson:
Seriously, my fellow citizens, at the end of the day, if nothing else, at LEAST we know we are free. What’s not to love about that?
More importantly, what on earth would give a blogging hack like me the audacity to make such an outrageous statement, that we hold our freedom in contempt?
Well, let’s take a look at the facts. Starting with the very definition of freedom itself.
Freedom: a. the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
Ok, so far so good. I think we can agree, we’ve got that one down.
“Don’t fence me in”… “Don’t tread on me”… “Give me liberty or give me death”… or, for the millenial crowd-
Kid on Bus: “What are you gonna do today Napolean?”
Napolean Dynamite: “Whatever I feel like I want to do, gosh!”
Translation: “Take these shackles off and leave me alone!” Sounds simple enough.
Ah, if only that were the beginning and end of it. But wait, there’s more…
Freedom: b. liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another
Here is where our problem starts. Of course no one wants to be in bondage to anyone or anything else. Slavery=bad. No one needs to tell us this. And yet… perhaps our idea of subjugation is a bit one-dimensional. When we think of captivity, the picture that comes to mind often involves bad people overstepping their bounds and coercing good people into situations against their will, like say, human trafficking, for example. Certainly that is one form of slavery, and we revile it for a reason; we are not made to be in bondage, but to exercise our own free will unencumbered by the unjust restraints of others.
There is another form of slavery, however, that we don’t like to think about, mostly because it hits a little too close to home, and steps on our toes that so love to frolic freely to the sound of our own music. And that form of bondage comes, ironically enough, from our very own choices.
It’s great to have the freedom to choose to (as the Mamas and the Papas put it) go where we want to go, do what we want to do, say what we want to say. But sometimes the actions we choose come with a pesky little thing we in the wet blanket business like to call “consequences.” They’re not always fun, either. In some cases, of course, they are necessary, and welcomed, which is why we have laws, to keep us safe from all sorts of anarchical mayhem. However, even within the framework of our laws, sometimes our choices lead us to places we never thought we wanted to go. Sometimes we leverage our freedoms for what we value even more than freedom: that is, our own personal comfort and/or convenience. Like the old story about Jacob, Esau and a bowl of stew (look it up here if you don’t know it: Genesis 25:27-34, we trade down to meet an immediate need. It seems a bit foolhardy. But we do it all the time.
Take this election cycle, for example. We enjoy tremendous freedom to elect the candidate of our choice. That is the heart of democracy. But make no mistake, no matter which path we select, there will be implications that we will feel as a country, collectively and individually. We’re free to choose, oh yes we are, never minding that by nature of our freedom of choice we are in fact forfeiting a bunch of other freedoms (regarding our own money / property / privacy / mobility / lifestyle, etc.). But for some, the loss is worth the gain. After all, everyone benefits from things like roads, bridges, protection, so why not just expand the menu of benefits so that everyone can reap even more benefits? More sacrifice by all means a better world for all, right? In fact, for some, forfeiting our personal freedom is seen as the ticket to greater opportunities for all and therefore expanded personal liberty. Free education. Free healthcare. Free stuff for everyone. Free, Free, Free. And what’s wrong with that? Hasn’t that system of sacrificing liberties in order to gain other perks from well meaning but all powerful governmental entities worked out really well in every other country in the history of the world? What could possibly go wrong?
Conversely, there are those who want all the perks spoken of above AND maximum individual liberty as well. “Don’t get all up in my business and tell me who to love, what to put in and/or take out of my body or how to spend my money, but by all means, make sure my needs are met. And make it snappy!” Again, what could possibly go wrong with this system?
But maybe politics/economics isn’t your thing. Let’s get a little closer to home. Why shouldn’t we be free to just eat what we want, without judgment or dietary consequences? Oh wait, Diabetes. Never mind. Ok, then how about freedom to spend more money than we make? Oh yeah, debt. Drats. Sexual freedom? Right, STD’s. Divorce. Heartbreak. Man, this is hard.
None of this is unique to us as Americans, or even to this generation, of course. It all started a long, long time ago. Think Adam & Eve trading their freedom for a piece of fruit… the Israelites longing for leeks if only they could go back to their Egyptian captors… the crowd “freely” shouting to Pilate “Let his blood be on us and our children”.
We want what we want when we want it. And we don’t want what we don’t want. We honestly believe we can have it both ways. And like children, we cry “why can’t we just have our way?” Isn’t that, after all, what it means to be free?
Of course, we know it isn’t. At least on an intellectual level. In our hearts, though, we just can’t seem to help ourselves. It’s almost as if we are drawn to bondage, via those sneaky means that give us that beautifully deceptive appearance of liberty.
“There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death.” Prov 14:12
We make choices. Our choices have consequences. Freedom is not liberty from the results of our consequences. Sometimes our “freedom” results in our own enslavement. Sometimes we forget that.
And this, my friends, brings us full circle, back to my controversial thesis. In our hearts, we actually kind of hate this about freedom. True freedom, that is, that leads not to death and destruction, but to health and hope and joy. So we avoid the idea altogether, and lull ourselves into complacency with fanciful ideas of freedom that have no bearing on the reality of our lives. Though we love the idea of it, too often we just settle for the enticing claims of its lying Imposter, who promises short term pleasure, but leaves out the fine print, which if we heeded it would warn us that by complying to its demands, we are actually headed into a state of self-induced captivity. We can’t seem to help ourselves. It’s in our sinful nature.
Like I said, freedom is a terrible thing. Terrible, in the sense of its unchecked power. By it, when left completely unfettered, we are free to make catastrophic choices that ultimately end up hopelessly enslaving us.
That’s the bad news. But there is good news.
Freedom: c. the quality or state of being exempt or released from something onerous.
We can be released from the onerous, and experience true freedom. Glory hallelu! But… such release requires a few things:
First- some painful self-awareness and intellectual honesty. Let’s stop kidding ourselves that we can do whatever we want. We can’t. (If in doubt, re-read above. Several times).
Second- some real humility. Left to our own devices, we’re not able to live truly free lives. Given the choice, we will ultimately choose self destruction. No one is exempt from this. We need help to escape our own enslavement.
Third- some honest to goodness Grace. The kind that only comes from God. The kind that He paid a terrible price for by taking our enslavement to sin upon Himself. The kind He offers freely. To all people. In every generation. Everywhere.
Of course, this kind of freedom hinges on our freedom to do what we want with this information. That, my friend, is a choice you are free to make. And given the choice, what would be your preference?