Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Liberty Without a Creator

Americans love freedom and liberty. We hold it dear and we protect it literally with our very lives. But what exactly is liberty? I am a big Webster fan (not the little cute actor, the dictionary guy), especially when it comes to defining words for which we have long taken the meaning for granted. Here is how Webster defines liberty:

Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -ties
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French liberté, from Latin libertat-, libertas, from liber free -- more at LIBERAL
1 : the quality or state of being free: a : the power to do as one pleases b : freedom from physical restraint c : freedom from arbitrary or despotic control d : the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges e : the power of choice
2 a : a right or immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant : PRIVILEGE b : permission especially to go freely within specified limits
3 : an action going beyond normal limits: as a : a breach of etiquette or propriety : FAMILIARITY b : RISK, CHANCE c : a violation of rules or a deviation from standard practice d : a distortion of fact
4 : a short authorized absence from naval duty usually for less than 48 hours
synonym see FREEDOM
- at liberty
1 : FREE
2 : at leisure : UNOCCUPIED

Probably none of these definitions are a big suprise to anyone. I think #1 and #2 are specifically relevant to personal freedoms that we like to enjoy so I will focus on these. Also note that liberty and freedom are basically synonymous.

Definition 1a states, "the power to do as one pleases". Upon reading this, I instantly think of things that I certainly DO NOT want people doing (whether it "pleases" them or not), like selling dangerous narcotics, preying on children sexually, etc. It is probably safe to assume then that liberty does not mean doing whatever you want, whenever you want. Anyone who believes in absolute freedom of this kind I am guessing has never been assaulted or had their goods stolen. At best they are not being realistic, at worst they are of the type that wishes to commit these acts without restraint.

Using this argument, I am persuaded that, at least for the purposes of this discussion, definition #1 should be discarded and we should focus on #2:

2 a : a right or immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant : PRIVILEGE b : permission especially to go freely within specified limits

So now freedom and liberty is "granted" and we are given "permission" to be free. This will offend some who believe we are absolute free agents, freely roaming the earth doing what "pleases us". The problem with that is, when your enjoyment of what pleases you violates the freedom of another, it is not freedom anymore. I would say it is immorality.

I will offer that without morality, there can be no liberty because without a moral code or "specified limits", freedom ceases to be free. Here are two quotes that nicely sum up this thought:

"Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters." - Benjamin Franklin

"Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue?" - George Washington

The question then becomes, who decides for me what is permissible? Who grants me certain rights? Who says what is moral?

Some would say it is the role of government to grant rights to people and decide how those rights should be used, but I disagree. I believe it is the role of government to protect my liberties or rights from being encroached upon. I think the founders of this country would agree:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." - The Declaration of Independence

This quote hits on exactly what I am getting at with this post: that the natural liberties we have are a gift from our Creator and that it is the job of government to preserve them by restraining those who would like to violate them. This is done primarily by enacting a moral code or system of laws. If this is insufficient to deter some, then punishment becomes necessary to further deter and/or restrain the violator.

So I will summarize by stating that without a Creator, there can be no real freedom; and where one desires to protect liberty, a moral code must be established.

"Those who will not be governed by God, will be ruled by tyrants." - William Penn


Mr. Grey Ghost said...

Great post! Too bad how many people take liberty for granted or have some false sense of privilege when it comes to freedom.

Bullfrog said...

That was one of the points I was hoping to make with this post. Liberty comes with a cost and with responsibility.

Little Miss Chatterbox said...

Wow!!! Wonderful post, I may have to link to this. Extremely well said and I wholeheartedly agree.

It kind of goes along with objective & subjective truth. The worldview of secularists is that all truth is subjective and that there is no objective truth. It sounds good to some until a simple test proves how fallible it is. In Apologetics class at Moody our professor had us test it out. As an employer I've promised to pay you $50 for your wages but when you're done I decide that I really only want to pay you a dime. Who is going to stop me since nothing is really wrong, it is all subjective.

You make the same points with freedom, we aren't free to hurt others. An excellent point!!

Sonnyredd said...

Thoughtful post. I don't agree with its premise, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

Liberty's definition is actually found in definition 1, at least in the American sense. It is freedom from the burden of despotic control.

But I get you, and I respect your pov.

Bullfrog said...

LMC: Good point, there is a famous quote that says,

"Those that believe what suits them only believe themselves" (paraphrase).

You are probably going to ask me who said it and I forgot! I'll have to dig around and see if I can find it. Google to the rescue!

Sonny, thanks for chiming in. I would be interested to know what you think what liberty would be without morality?

Sonnyredd said...

"Sonny, thanks for chiming in. I would be interested to know what you think what liberty would be without morality?"

Europe. (I kid, I kid!)

Look, morality is always a subjective term. But if I understand your question, what freedom is there without conscience?

I hate to answer that with another question, but is the religious man who does good knowing he will gain enterence into heavan being truly religious, or is he being selfish?

How about the pacifist who will let others go to war to defend him and his family, yet he will refuse citing religious grounds (Amish come to mind), are they morally right?

My point, is that none of us are truly moral nor are we truly free.

Yet we may have moral conduct because we refrain from behaviors that offend the society at large, while we remain free of despotic rule. Moral and free?


Cynthia said...
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Cynthia said...
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Cynthia said...

This is an interesting post. When we talk about freedom/liberty one always has to take into account that we are free to do what we please within the confines of the dominant society.

This phrase, "they are endowed by their Creator" acknowledges that there is more than one Creator. What ever we believe in, by our own Creator, we have inalienable rights.

Robert said...

Sonnyredd has an excellent point and I was thinking the same thing that Cynthia commented about, that freedom comes from a society.

I think to be fair, your point about freedom coming from a creator should actually be the belief in a god, not that one actually exists.

Outside the Box said...

Question time!

I've been working on this for a while and it finally came to me this week. I want to run it by you.

Is it fair to state that all denominations of Christianity, regardless if they "hate fags" or allow women to be pastors, must have these 3 beliefs as their core tenets?

1. Adam & Eve begat Original Sin and all of mankind is affected by it.

2. Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

3. He died so that our Original Sin may be forgiven.

Do I have this correct?

Is there more?

Most importantly, did I use "begat" correctly?

Little Miss Chatterbox said...

Miss you!!!

Cynthia said...

I hope all is well with you and your family...