“From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
These words from Samuel Francis Smith’s 1831 hymn America rang throughout our land last week as we attained the ripe old age of 247. And what better way to party on our birthday than with fireworks, burgers and brats on the grill and a couple of brewskis? After all, we were once mere colonies, voiceless vassals of the British Crown. We were tethered by taxes and tyranny, kept in check by ‘Red Coat’ occupation, and deprived of the God-given and unalienable rights penned by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Having gained these rights through the spilled blood of those early patriots, we remember the price they paid and, in each annual 4th of July celebration, treasure our independence and freedom.
And so, how does it feel to be 247? What about the people, the individuals of this great nation – are we still free? Are we personally free? In order to answer these questions, we should first enquire into the true nature of freedom. Is freedom the right to do anything I want? The answer is “Yes” if we accept the notion of freedom according to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant held that “human freedom is absolutely autonomous and subjective.” He further claimed that law imposed from without violates personal freedom. This idea could be tested by asking a simple question, “Does ‘freedom’ include the right to inflict harm upon, or exploit others?” Any moral person would of course say, “No” to this question. Kant’s idea of freedom then is more akin to licentiousness, which is defined as, “lacking moral discipline or restraint…an abuse of freedom”.
Avery Cardinal Dulles wrote, “At the lower level…freedom means the absence of physical constraint. A balloon rises freely when nothing obstructs it; a stone falls freely when nothing impedes it. A dog is free if it is let off the leash so that it can follow its impulses.”
But as moral human beings we must rise above ourselves to a higher level of freedom. Again, Cardinal Dulles explains: “If my motives could never transcend my individual self-interest or the collective self-interest of my group, I could never be truly free.” Therefore, true freedom cannot be reduced to individual interests alone, it must take into consideration not only the individual, but the scope of family and society.
Throughout the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul the Great, he often stressed that there is no human freedom without truth. Therefore, the key to living in true freedom requires that we embrace the truth. Thinking we are a bird and jumping off the Empire State Building to soar into the skies of ‘freedom’ would not end well.
On trial before the Roman authorities, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” There was no response, but on a previous occasion, Jesus said to some Jews who believed in him:
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Truth is a Person, Jesus, who said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” Only he can set us free from the tyranny of sin and death – true freedom indeed!
Now, that is something to shout from the housetops, the mountainsides and even the valleys of our land, “Let true freedom ring!”