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A post in the Christianity series.

Freedom isn’t free,
it costs folks like you and me.

And if you don’t put in your buck ‘o five,
who will?

– “Freedom Isn’t Free” from Team America, World Police

“Freedom” may be the most misunderstood concept of the 21st century. The calls and cries of “freedom of speech” and “I’m free to do what I want” now pervade American social and political discourse. It seems we can’t discuss any societal ills without personal “freedom” being thrown into the mix, as if that somehow is the answer to everything. With COVID-19 raging across the country, this seems to be the only argument many people care to make. It’s all “freedom, freedom, freedom!” (and it’s all white people but that’s a topic for another day), but what these people are asking for, crying for, demanding even, isn’t freedom! If these people actually got what they want, they’d find themselves with no freedoms at all. We seem to have lost all concept of “freedom” and now conflate it with everyone’s innate ability to act and speak.

“I’m free to do what I want” is a true statement, but it is not freedom. We are all human. We can all communicate. We can all participate in society. There is little that physically restrains us from saying or doing whatever we want. More importantly though, we are also free to suffer the consequences of our actions. If you curse at someone, don’t be surprised if that person is less interested in talking to you, or curses you back. If you punch someone, don’t be surprised if you get punched back. If you publicly support a hate-filled political regime, don’t be surprised if people no longer want to buy your product. If you party with hundreds of others during a pandemic, you shouldn’t be surprised when you end up positive for COVID-19. But this truth is lost on many today.

Webster defines “freedom” as “the quality or state of being free: such as the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.” It’s easy to focus on a surface-level understanding of this definition, e.g. “you can’t tell me what I can and cannot do” but spend time thinking about creating a society that adheres to freedom and it won’t be long before many difficult questions rear their heads. “What do we do if someone steals from another?” or “What do we do if someone kills another?” Taken at a higher level, these questions can all be combined into: “What happens if someone does something that makes it difficult or impossible for me to exercise my freedom?” Attempting to answer this question shows why and how freedom is such a difficult topic to discuss. There are many right answers to these questions, but there is also a definitively wrong answer: doing nothing.

A society with no rules whatsoever has a specific name: anarchy. Ironically, anyone striving for “pure freedom” will end up here and find that they’ve lost all of the freedoms they ever had. In a society with no rules there is no freedom because every moment must be spent worrying about and protecting against what others may do to you. Your actions are now completely dictated by others, and vis-versa. Thus, where there is anarchy there by definition cannot be freedom.

So rules, and more importantly rules that all in the society agree on, are required for there to be freedom, but that still isn’t the full picture. If people spend their days questioning if their actions are infringing on a societal rule or law, then their every action is dictated by those laws and that doesn’t sound much like freedom either! Did we just talk ourselves into a circle and start right back where we began? Well, no, but to understand why requires looking at freedom from a different angle.

You may have noticed that this article is included in my Christianity series of articles and that’s because, at its core, Christianity is about freedom, true freedom. Humanity became enslaved to sin the moment we first disobeyed God, and there nothing we can do to save ourselves from death and Hell. But our Creator loved us so much that he became human, served, taught, and died, giving up His freedom and taking the punishment meant for us. In doing so, He freed us from our own sinful nature. God, through Christ, gave us freedom by giving up His.

And now we have the full picture. Freedom is a gift we give to others. It is not something we can take for ourselves but requires sacrifice. Only when we are looking out for each other can there ever be freedom. Is a truly free society possible on this Earth? Probably not, but we can and should constantly strive to provide this gift to as many people as possible. We will and do make mistakes. We will and do impinge and obstruct the freedom of others (Black Lives Matter!). But if we acknowledge our failings, forgive others when they fail, and try to do better, only then will we make any meaningful progress towards freedom and a more free society.

Here are some thoughts and things we can do today: