A wave of recent events thrust the idea of freedom into the forefront of a cultural debate on human rights. Often galvanized by controversies surrounding life and death–of children and lions–freedom is pursued as passionately as it is defended.
[bluebox]Why does it seem like freedom–the hallmark of American exceptionalism–is on the decline?[/bluebox]
And what can we do about it?
Georgia Tech recently hosted an open forum with Dr. Ravi Zacharias and Dr. Os Guinness titled “The Challenge of Human Freedom.” I attended the event as part of the RZIM Summer Institute and would like to share with you a brief outline of the discussion that evening. The following discussion is paraphrased from presentations made by both speakers.
Freedom, it seems, is not just a condition–it is a paradox.
The Paradox of Freedom
[bluebox] Freedom is the greatest enemy of freedom[/bluebox]
We must look at freedom in three different contexts: historical, political, and moral.
- Historical: there is an inverse relationship between security and freedom. The more surveillance to protect freedom, the less freedom.
- Political: a nation needs not only the structures of freedom, but the spirit of freedom as well.
- Moral: freedom requires restraint, and it must be self-restraint.
As a country enjoys greater freedoms, freedoms become permissiveness. Permissiveness becomes license. And license is different than freedom.
[callout] The Golden Triangle of Freedom[/callout]
Part of the freedom conundrum can be described with what Os Guinness described as the Golden Triangle of Freedom:
- Freedom requires virtue, expressed in character
- Virtue requires faith of some sort
- Faith of any sort requires freedom
The question arises:
[bluebox]which faith is it that grounds and guards freedom for individuals, the public, and those exercising politics?[/bluebox]
Faiths share a common family resemblance, all come from the same sense of knowing that we are merely a part of something far bigger and greater than ourselves.
So how is freedom expressed within the major religious worldviews? Os divides them into three main categories:
- Eastern Family (Hinduism, Buddhism, New Age Movement, etc…)
- Secularist (atheism, agnosticism, naturalism, materialism, etc…)
- Judeo/Christian (Judaism and Christianity
The Easter family of regions prize freedom, but it is freedom from individuality. Secularist religions value freedom of individuality. And the Judeo/Christian worldviews view freedom as a gift, through which we most resemble our Creator, and it is always most fully exercised in relationship with him and the rest of his creation.
Os reminded the audience that you understand a nation by what it loves supremely, and in his opinion, we Americans are squandering our heritage.
What is the antidote to the decline of freedom? The answer lies within the Golden Triangle itself.
3 Antidotes to Declining Freedom
The 3 antidotes to our declining freedom are:
We must begin to supremely love virtue once more. How do we do that? We must raise a generation of children with character, and that requires strong families. They must have character modeled for them from our generation today, and that requires strong leaders. Finally, the antidote to declining freedom, is freedom. What’s a good conundrum without a bit of circularity? We need freedom–not entitlement, not license–but true freedom to pursue the kind of faith that is capable of incubating virtue through character.
“We are a nation of laws,”
Ravi Zacharias reminded the crowd. But his next question was more important: “But of whose laws?”
He uses a tree as analogy that represents the structure of a nation.
- The roots are the laws.
- The trunk is the political system.
- The branches are the culture and the expression of its people.
“What holds the roots together?” asks Ravi. And then he answers that they can only be held if something solid is gripping those roots. There must be a moral sense that underlies both art and moral reasoning. What is that moral soil? How do we find it?
The French enlightenment found the answer in reason. In England, it was about social virtue. And in America, it was about freedom.
Ravi concluded his presentation with a quote by de Tocqueville:
“Despotism can do without faith, but freedom cannot.”
The Big Questions
Who deserves freedom?
Humans? Animals? What kind of humans? What kind of animals? Are humans anything more than animals?
These are the kinds of questions that can no longer be ignored. Without first answering the big questions in life, you risk fighting a culture war where nobody knows what they’re actually fighting for.
We must reestablish ourselves as a culture of life.
We must foster a culture of love.
We must stop focusing on ourselves, and start focusing on others.
Only then will we begin to regain the kind of liberty and freedom secured with the blood of patriots and heroes.
[bluebox]What are you willing to give to guarantee freedom for the centuries to come?[/bluebox]
There’s something far more valuable for you to give than a like and a share:
What other antidotes have you discovered?
Photo credit: qthomasbower / CC / https://www.flickr.com/photos/qthomasbower/3426242870