Written by Peter Blanch
Freedom is a concept we all consider to be important. Everyone wants to be free!Freedom has been the subject of many movies, plays, poems, artwork, essays, even PhD’s! The Rolling Stones wrote the song “I’m Free” which includes the lyrics: “I’m free to do what I want any old time…”
The song displays a popular view of freedom, that is, to be free, really free, is to be free to do whatever you want, whenever you want. While this idea is catchy and sells songs, none of us in our hearts believe it to be true:
- Was Martin Bryant free to kill 35 people in the Port Arthur massacre?
- Was Hitler free to kill millions of Jews?
- Are you free to drink and drive?
- Is the truly free person actually free to do what they want, any old time?
We know it’s not true, we don’t believe it – yet for many people when they think about freedom they often assume this is what freedom means. This is because it feels to us that inbuilt into the word freedom is the idea of being without limits, that true freedom means having no boundaries. It’s a concept that needs challenging, particularly in light of recent world events.
To truly understand freedom we need to consider more carefully what freedom is. Freedom will always involve being released from constraint – that is at the heart of the word. Freedom is being set free from that which enslaves you. Freedom is being liberated from that which chains you. So freedom is not an abstract idea. You simply just can’t have freedom by itself – Freedom is always freedom from something. Freedom is never alone. Genuine freedom goes hand in hand with something that you have been freed from. Freedom always means being freed from something so that now you can do something else. African Americans were released from slavery to become free citizens.
True freedom is not being free to do what you want any old time. True freedom is being released from that which falsely imprisons us and prevents us from doing good. And we are released for a purpose – in order to pursue and enjoy that which is good. In short freedom is release from restraint in order to do and enjoy good.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Some time go now (2006) – the Paris based french magazine Charlie Hebdo published some cartoons in their weekly newspaper about Muhammad and the muslim religion. They had reprinted the cartoons penned by a Danish newspaper and added some of their own into the mix.
Clearly on one side many Muslim people were offended by the cartoons. They strongly opposed the printing of the cartoons – some countries took economic action and Dutch products were taken off supermarket shelves.
The other side took offense at this retaliatory action. The media in particular were offended by what they saw as an attack on free speech.
For many in the media, they think that “freedom of press” means they are free to say what they want, when they want – and so they considered themselves free to print whatever they liked, whenever they wanted.
But they have fundamentally misunderstood true freedom. Freedom is always release from restraint in order to do and enjoy good. When the media talk about “freedom of the press” we always need to ask of them – what have they been freed from? And more importantly, what have they been freed for?
Freedom of the press means that the press is free from state control. Free from the government controlling the media. It is good to have freedom of the press because when the government controls the media, then lies can abound and the government can cover over all bad points and keep people in darkness – that is, in slavery to censorship from a corrupt government.
But we need to ask: for what reason has the press been released from state control? I think you would agree with me that this is so the press may be at liberty to investigate and publish the truth. It is for this good that the press has been released.
The media is not free to print whatever they want any old time. The media is not free to publish lies and they are not free to be involved in gossip and rumour – for that would leave the citizens of the country in slavery to the media version of the truth.
Freedom of the press means that the media is free from restraints which prevent them from doing good. And the good the press should be engaged in is the pursuit of truth.
If you were the editor of Charlie Hebdo, this understanding should shape your decision whether or not to print the offensive cartoons and articles. It would not be wise to say – “I’m free to print what I want any old time and so I’m going to print it no matter what the cost.”
It would be much wiser to think: “My newspaper is free from state control in order to investigate and publish truth. Are these cartoons portraying truth?”
If the answer is yes – you are free to print. If the answer is no – your freedom does not permit you to do so. I wonder how many media organisations think this carefully about their content.
Certainly those who retaliated against Charlie Hebdo were not free to murder. Their actions are evil and should be measured as such. How and why their actions are evil is a topic for another food for thought.
Right now it is worth remembering what the apostle Paul says:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Use your christian freedom well – for you have been freed to serve and live for God.