Friday, June 30, 2006

Are We Really Free?

Two hundred and thirty years ago next Tuesday, thirteen American colonies defied the most powerful nation on earth and declared themselves "free and independent States." This bold move, accompanied by the Revolutionary War, had its foundations in the writings of "enlightened" philosophers who had reasoned that each individual was endowed by God with certain rights and freedoms. Among these were "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," along with freedoms of religion, speech, the press, assembly, association, and many others enshrined in America's Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Since then, many other rights and freedoms have accrued to the citizens of the United States. Many of these are corollaries of rights already recognized by the founding documents, while yet too many others have been engineered out of the ether. For instance, perhaps the best-known, totally unfounded right is that of abortion. This derives, says its proponents, from the right to choose and the right to privacy, both of which are missing from the Constitution. The Founders certainly did not, and if alive today, would not want the nation's basic law to allow for the selective murder of innocents. They would be horrified to see how their ethical and noble masterpiece of human law has been perverted.

Some of our freedoms have been so curtailed or twisted as to be unrecognizable. The evolution of the freedom of religion is perhaps the most egregious example, which began with the elevation of "separation of church and state" from a phrase lifted from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to constitutional dogma. The Constitution guarantees only that the government would not establish a state religion and that Americans are free to worship as they choose. It says nothing at all about prayer in schools or governmental meetings, Bible passages or references to God on government buildings or grounds, or any interaction between religious organizations and government. Truly, as has often been said, we no longer have freedom of religion but freedom from religion. It has been turned on its head.

The Second Amendment, guaranteeing the right to bear arms, has been similarly violated. It may no longer be politically correct to say so, but in the Founders' minds, this right had three applications: Arms were necessary for 1) hunting animals for food, 2) protecting oneself from predators and hostiles, and 3) defending oneself against the tyranny of the government. Today, there are myriads of laws defining this basic right down to a mere whimper of its former bang. Studies have shown time and again that an armed citizenry makes for a safer society because both criminals and governments have to respect the potential for retaliation. While the sixth commandment certainly forbids aggressive self-defense (Exodus 20:13; 21:12-14; 22:2-3; etc.), in a carnal society the freedom to bear arms actually provides a necessary deterrent to violence.

The Founders would be aghast at the Kelo v. City of New London ruling last year, which essentially allows governments to condemn existing properties in favor of more tax-lucrative enterprises. The right to property was among their highest principles; to them it almost by itself defined a free man. That the Supreme Court of the land would use their writings to justify the outright theft of a citizen's land would be unconscionable to them. On top of this are all the frequently nitpicky statutes and regulations that limit—and sometimes even prohibit—how a person uses his land. In essence, the once sacred right to property has been minimized to a kind of feudal system of ownership, in which the government (the overlord) has the last say in how property is utilized and disposed, plus it demands and takes an exorbitant share of its value in taxes.

Finally, though this does not exhaust the list, we no longer have equality under the law. There are too many examples to name, but maybe the most obvious is the "hate crime." If a man assaults another man, he gets x amount of time in jail or a fine of x dollars. However, if the other man he strikes is a homosexual—that is, a protected minority—he will receive x+ in penalties from the judge. Sometimes, even if the minority status of the aggrieved person is not pertinent to the crime—that is, there is no malice involved—the perpetrator will still receive a heavier sentence. In reality, this means that an injured minority has a higher value than an injured member of the majority. This miscarriage of justice occurred in the landmark case of the 1998 beating death of gay University of Wyoming freshman Matthew Shepard. He was murdered, not because he was a homosexual, but because he had failed to pay his drug supplier! While this is an extreme case, similar inequalities have removed the law's impartiality and restricted the average citizen's supposedly inalienable rights.

These five examples are just the tip of the gargantuan iceberg of lost freedoms and rights—we did not even mention those stripped by the Patriot Act. How free are we, then, if so much has been taken away? What are the chances that these rights will be returned? Although it has happened from time to time, government does not have a good record of willingly returning powers it has arrogated to itself. This is why Jefferson recommended "a little revolution now and then" to restore the proper balance.

True Christians, whose "citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20), have an advantage over the unconverted citizen of an earthly nation: We can feel free—and actually be free—despite the encroaching bondage to national government. Jesus discusses this in depth in John 8, saying that true freedom resides paradoxically in submission to Him and to His truth (see verses 31-32; see Romans 6:15-23). In fact, one is never truly free until he comes to this point, no matter what his political circumstances!

Every individual is enslaved to his own nature and so to the deceptive whims of the god of this world, who is the father of that nature (II Corinthians 4:4; John 8:37-44). Thus, to be free, one must overcome both his own nature and the influence of Satan, which is mimicked in the cultures of this world, and this is only possible through belief in Jesus Christ and, as He put it, "abid[ing] in His word" (John 8:31). So a Christian is called to liberty (Galatians 5:13), one of loving self-control and outgoing concern.

This is the only true way to be free.