Friday, July 4, 2014

Are we really as free as we believe?

In the 1800's, the world was a rapidly changing place. For the first 1500 years after Christ, the church and state were inseparable. You couldn't have one without the other. And then the Reformation came along, with the Enlightenment close on its heels.
Before these two ages, the freedom that comes through believing(slash buying indulgences and going to mass and doing penance and going to confession for the remission of your sins) in Christ had been enough for people. The church was the culture, and the culture was all the people knew.
But after the Reformation - and especially after the Enlightenment - freedom through Christ wasn't enough. Everyone had it in their heads that they ought to be "as free as possible."

"Liberty in numerous ancient settings meant more than the mere notion that an individual may choose a course of action. Liberty was typically tied to nature... ...Freedom was noble and important because a person could pursue the goal of living up to their nature or potential. Social barriers restricting a person's progress should be removed when possible."*

It was with this type of liberty in their minds that the Thirteen Colonies declared independence from England. Unfortunately, like so many other things, this definition of freedom has been buried under the sands of time.

"People today often understand liberty apart from nature. They do not wish to be free so they can become a good version of what they are; they think freedom is being able to choose what they want to be. On a similar note ancient understandings of human...happiness [was] tied to...becoming good, not just feeling good. Aristotle, for example, would think it odd that our contemporary culture [has] satisfaction in feeling good [instead of] being good."

As is (very) evident in today's culture, living up to one's full potential is most definitely not the norm. The majority of people, I feel confident in saying, are only concerned with their own pleasure, in getting "satisfaction in feeling good instead of being good." This brings up an interesting question... are we really as free as we believe?

"Alexis de Tocqueville, a visitor in the United States, during the nineteenth century, issued a warning in his classic study, Democracy in America. In the United States, he said, neither aristocracy nor princely tyranny exist. Yet, asked de Tocqueville, does not this unprecedented 'equality of conditions' itself pose a fateful threat: the 'tyranny of the majority'? In the processes of government, de Tocqueville warned, rule of the majority can mean oppression of the minority, control by erratic public moods rather than reasoned leadership."

Sure, the Constitution gives us the freedom to choose our own leaders, to peacefully protest, petition, to practice whatever religion we want (but who reads those stuffy old documents anyway?) - but if the majority of people want to go down the wrong path, the minority who know the right way often get pressured into going the wrong way too. If they do stay strong and take the right path, there are hard feelings and anger involved from both sides.
A great illustration is C3P-O and R2-D2 from Star Wars. After their escape pod crashes on the planet Tatooine in A New Hope, C3P-O wants to go one way, while R2-D2 wants to go another way. They end up getting into an argument and storming off in opposite directions.
So it is with the Christian who tries to take the straight and narrow path in a crooked and wide world. More often than not, the majority's voice will let out such a deafening roar, that the minority's voice - and with it, their rights - are drowned out.

Normally, the majority is just the majority because one person said something with enough force that everyone else thought, "Hey, this guy knows what he's talking about! He must be right!" They don't do their research, they don't look deeper, they don't look at motives. They just follow the crowd.
The minority, on the other hand, are usually the people who know the most. They are aware, attune to the things going on around them.
Unfortunately, not only does the minority have the majority to worry about, they also have the leader of the majority - that strong voice - to worry about. Usually a public figure, someone with authority. And that leader, for whatever motives, tries to crush the minority out of his plan. It has happened over and over and over again in history.
Just look at the papacy in the Middle and Reformation ages. Someone would get an idea contrary to Catholic doctrine and start sharing it with others. The Catholic church would get nervous for one reason or another, and they would condemn the person and his followers as heretics, and try to annihilate them. Sometimes, the people were actual heretics. Many more times, they were people who had started to examine the scriptures, or started to read the early church father's writings, and discovered that they said nothing about indulgences, confession, and mass as a way to be saved, or as a way to heaven.
Eventually you had people like John Calvin and Martin Luther who made enough of a difference that the Church couldn't do much about it and that's how we get so many denominations nowadays and complete separation of church and state.

We need people like the Reformers today. People who will stand up for freedom. And not just freedom to do what feels good. Freedom to become the best that we can become.

Slowly, without even realizing it, our freedom to live up to our potential is being taken from us. Instead of being taught to think and reason, children are being taught that school is a huge bore and that instead, they should go out and party and experiment with sinful things in order to "find themselves" (but don't worry, the government will take good care of them). 
The past few generations, and the current one, and the next ones, are being taught to do what feels good, rather than what is good, which is, I think, a huge reason why we don't have men like Martin Luther any more.
Standing up for what's important is difficult. It's hard. It's painful. It's excruciating. It's uncomfortable. It always has been and it always will be (if you need examples just look at the martyrs from the first three centuries AD, or the Reformers, or missionaries to anti-Christian countries today). The Bible even promises us that we will be persecuted... 1 John 3:13 says, "Do not be surprised, brothers, if the world hates you."
In today's culture, being uncomfortable is a bad thing. Adversity and confrontation is frowned upon.
Well, sorry to break the news to you folks, but being uncomfortable and facing adversity and confrontation is what makes a person grow. The world would like to have you believe that humans can achieve perfection on their own, but that's a lie. As we become more isolated through our electronics, as we stop confiding in each other and sharing hard things, as we stop discussing and talking about things, as we bury our feelings, we're not getting rid of the problem, we're just making it bigger; we're becoming lonelier and lonelier.

Freedom is not free.

It costs. It often costs things we're not willing to give up. Comfort, safety, time, even friends or family sometimes. But do you know what comfort, safety, time, and sometimes friends and family cost?

Eternity. And not just eternity by itself... Eternity with the Creator of the world.

Believers, the Bible says "the truth shall set you free"; one of the most important steps in becoming free is to educate yourself, and then do something with that education, even if it's hard, even if it's uncomfortable. We can't "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:16-20) without getting out feet wet, can we?

Thoughts? Questions? I'd love to hear from you. (GASP! Maybe even get a debate started in the comments! *dramatically puts hand to forehead* Oh no! Not conflict!)

*All quotations taken from Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley, 4th edition, chapter 36 "The Restoration of Fortresses," edited slightly by me.


  1. Wonderful post! You'll get no arguments from me! This certainly is how society thinks today, and they are so far from the truth and lost it is very sad. But it makes the need for us to be a light so much more important, no matter what others say. Thank you for posting this!