The West is selling the illusion of freedom to the world, but not the demands of liberty.
We take for granted our liberty in the United States. Not everyone has to be liberated in order for us to parasitically ride their moderation, but no culture can stand too many parasites and remain strong. If too many abuse freedom, then we will lose all liberty.
Humans are truly free to the extent that we are liberated from the desire to use freedom to do evil deeds. Freedom gives the right to choose, but the liberated choose wisely. Founders like Adams and Washington understood that the highest good is not personal peace, bread and stuff.
The founders of America knew there is no “right” to do evil deeds. Wrong choices undercut liberty by producing bad men. Bad men will demand the freedom to do evil and insist society call their evil “good.” This will undercut the ability of society to police itself and soon the masses will look to government to do the job moral degenerates cannot do.
This always fails, because if men will cheat in their private life without guilt or repentance, then it will not be long before those same men will cheat in their public lives. You cannot bribe a good man and a good man makes a good judge. You cannot get a good judge out of citizens enthralled to money and power. American leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt constantly warned that education or “success” without morality was dangerous to society.
Any freedom without individual moral character or agreed on societal moral standards will eventually degenerate into tyranny and worse evils than existed in Egypt before the fall of Mubarak.
Leaders like Frederick Douglass knew that the hedonist couldn’t be freed, just as the good man can never really be enslaved. There was a reason slave owners tried to enslave their “property” to drink and immorality. Strong families and moderation in private behavior were discouraged.
Evil men believe that material goods will make them happy or that they can ignore the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God without penalty. Society, consisting of family and social organizations, will rot when men and women become free without the corresponding sense of moral duty. A decayed social infrastructure needs to be replaced and the state will fill the need, but a large state will soon crush liberty. Such “free” men and women will sell their freedom to the first tyrant that promises them security.
Know truth and a man will have liberty, but reject truth and the ignorant will be slaves. No man or woman can be free who has not learned to restrain his or her own desires, because those desires will demand time and mental energy that should be used on greater things.
One of those truths, self-evident to thinking people, is that the Creator gave each human being the right to life and liberty. John Locke, philosopher and Christian apologist, shows Egypt the way a traditional religious society can produce growing liberty. Locke provided the intellectual underpinnings for the American Revolution by bringing together an agreed on standard of private (in his case, Christian) morality with public liberty. He relied on accepted Christian moral standards to create moral men who would restrain themselves in dangerous situations like a revolution.
Locke was willing to trust the Christian citizen with unprecedented amounts of political power. The best hope for Egypt is that Islamic, Coptic and Jewish Egyptians can revive marriage between private piety and public liberty that Locke envisioned. They must do so in a way natural to Egyptian language and costumes, and the great monotheist faiths have the resources to do this job.
Secularism does not. Secularism will inevitably lead to hedonism in most and that hedonism will undercut the morality needed to maintain culture. Of course it is not sufficient to acknowledge a Creator to promote liberty, but it is necessary, because it is an important moral fact. If Egyptians can adapt the private morality of their religion to a public respect for liberty, then there is hope for Egypt.
The founding generation of Americans symbolized their love of liberty in a bell. This “liberty bell” contained an important Bible verse: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” In a nation where God’s moral law was written on the minds of most citizens through private piety such a proclamation makes sense. In a nation that seeks only freedom for personal short-term pleasure, the liberty bell is the toll of doom as men use freedom to do evil.
We shall see which it is in Egypt.
John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.
Publication date: February 17, 2011