By R.C. Dettmann
23 November 2021
This week I was stopped in my tracks re-listening to Joel Mckerrow’s Hope for Tomorrow, a spoken word poem calling us to serve the world’s great need for deliverance. It was fascinating to consider, what hope is, and how a message can burn even brighter, as the world grows darker.
This poem also reignited for me a conversation about freedom, especially as we currently face unprecedented and unnatural divide between those with freedom and those without it.
Many have borne witness with horror as the greatest threat to freedom around the world has been its corruption. Nations that have long championed the rights and freedoms of their citizens are suddenly struggling under pressure from philosophies of individualism or autocracy taken to extremes.
Since when is the individual “free” to harm the group? Alternatively, how can freedom mean we have a collective “right” to despise or threaten the lives and livelihoods of those who hold valid but different opinions to our own?
Fear, hatred, exploitation or exclusion of others are not the characteristics of a free nation. “Libertine” has replaced nobler ideas of Liberty. “Freedom” without a sense of obligation towards others has become diseased. It is an infection of anarchy as dangerous to nations as a pandemic. History shows what happens when either people or governments begin to do whatever they want: society rapidly disintegrates into no one being able to do what they want.
So, what is true freedom?
One definition I find relevant in this moment: freedom is the exercise of choice to place limits on self for the sake of others; to limit our own power, like Christ, who though equal with God took the form of a servant.
From Plato to the Magna Carta, the United States’ founding fathers, and beyond, freedom has only ever been conceived in partnership with responsibility.
Genuine freedom requires cognitive self-discipline and self-government. This extends to those serving within political structures, who supposedly attempt to rule the unruly, and reward the altruistic while regulating their own executive power or liberty. Humanity’s capacity for this is the source of all social and political freedom.
Nations hinge on an agreed rule of law. All law will legislate somebody’s “morality”, but there is a limit to how much law a state can enshrine before it becomes cumbersome and unfree, even while attempting to protect freedom.
Thus, sustainable freedom is up to the people themselves. They must practice an individual and collective moral responsibility of their own volition. This requires civic leadership rather than revolution.
So Joel’s poem had me suddenly understanding why I am weary of a narrative tilting too far toward “freedom from”, whether that be freedom from the risk of a pathogen or freedom from political overreach, as important as each are.
I long instead, for a re-entry of a concept of “freedom to”. What is our freedom for? Are we worthy of it? How will we wield it?
In Australia the beloved community are making choices that differ, for a diversity of reasons, with various consequences for their freedom. I have come to respect that to the best of their ability and information most believe they are making responsible choices with courage and conviction. This gives me hope.
What if our viewpoints are neither right nor wrong; just incomplete?
The fact is that we need each other, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, jabbed or jobless, progressive or conservative. We need to find out what the “freedom” we have or want is for.
We need to keep communicating our valuable perspectives, and steadily move forward to find solutions for one another.
Let us remain who we are at our best, dreaming up a wider freedom that meets our neighbours’ immediate needs and delivers equitable outcomes. Let us get involved as citizens to support future-forward statesmanship; craft better legislation; and return a balance of power for the benefit of all.
Why? Because suffering humanity cries for our united and responsible creativity to tackle some real oppression and inspire with hope in demonstration that freedom is for a good purpose.
R.C. Dettmann, an American Australian, writes and facilitates hospitality, conservation, and reconciliation from a grazing property in Central Victoria. She worships locally, and online with St Jude’s Anglican, Carlton.