As we celebrate our nation’s birthday today, I’ve started to consider what the words “freedom” and “independence” mean to the modern American.
And the more I look at the messages of popular culture today, the more I marvel at how attitudes and perceptions toward the meaning of that word have morphed in 238 years.
In researching for this column, I typed into a popular search engine the question, “What does freedom mean to you?” The one that truly stuck out to me is this response to the question, posted on a message board: “no attachment, no restriction, no burden, no action ... not even any sufferings — just free from everything — that’s only the residue of freedom, just the quality.”
This one caught my attention simply because it was the most outright representation of the vast majority of responses to the question. The message, then, is that freedom means that an individual has no responsibility or accountability, except to themselves. The only freedom which seems to matter to many is that liberty which allows them to satisfy their own desires, free from consequence or conscience.
And I believe the predominant messages from popular culture, particularly to the younger generation, echo this sentiment. Many singers, athletes, actors, and most of all, advertisers, sell our youth on the notion that freedom means living however you choose to live. You are to believe that how your life choices and pursuit of freedom affect anyone else is to be of secondary importance, if you care at all.
Respectfully, though, I believe that our Founding Fathers would disagree.
Thomas Paine, whose 19th Century works were instrumental in securing those freedoms that we cherish had these two things to say regarding the subject:
“Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess,” (from The Rights of Man) and, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.”
That is to say, if you expect to enjoy freedom, you also should be willing to fight and sacrifice so that others may enjoy the same freedoms. Simply put, true freedom does not decrease our responsibility to society and to humanity. Instead, it magnifies our personal responsibility.
True independence is won through sacrifice and toil. The freedoms we enjoy today were won with the blood, sweat, and tears of the many nameless and intrepid souls who came before us, to whose example we look today.
We look to the revolutionary streets of Lexington, Mass. (1775); the bloody and divided hills of Gettysburg, Pa. (1863); to the bullets raining down on the beaches of Normandy, France (1944); to the marchers arm-in-arm in the streets of Montgomery, Ala. and the rest of the south (1960s).
Our own history tells us, over and over again, that freedom never comes without cost or risk. In fact, a true freedom, one that will endure long after we are gone asks a far higher price of each individual who seeks to posses it.
The freedom that we celebrate today is not one of inaction. It is a freedom that cannot stand idle and watch while injustice and tragedy are perpetrated. It will not be a spectator while there is even one person in bondage, whether that bondage be to another person or to their own suffering.
Freedom is a war constantly waged, not with bullets, but with love. It can only continue to exist as long as there are people with enough love in their hearts and courage in their souls to fight, not only for themselves, but for all who suffer.
Freedom is never free. The price was paid in the past for you. Who are you willing to fight for, and what price are you willing to pay so that they may have it, too?
D.J. Kiewel is a youth leader at CrossPoint Church in Great Bend, and maintains a blog at www.breakthetpe312.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.