he Collegiate Letter   

The Collegiate Letter What Is Freedom?

The recent elections in Iraq have brought to the table a question that has challenged virtually every nation… every society… every culture… since the philosophers of ancient Greece raised it in building the foundation of the world’s first democracy. That question is: “What is freedom?”

Everyone desires to have freedom. But what does that really mean? Freedom is such an imprecise word! It is often misunderstood (or misused) unless followed by a descriptor. For instance, freedom of something does not necessarily imply freedom from something. And freedom from something is not the same as freedom to do something.

One of the great issues of our time regards the freedom of religion. That is a freedom guaranteed in the American Constitution. It was placed in the Constitution to guard against the establishment of a state-run national religion… much like the Church of England that had almost dictatorial power in the British Empire.

And regardless of what any of our professors might say, the constitutional call for the separation of church and state was not designed to produce freedom from religion. Rather, it was instituted to assure the freedom of religion. It was intended to guarantee every religious group the freedom to practice its religion without interference from the state. In particular, it was supposed to insure that no oppressive religious group would ever be able use the authority of the government to dictate what other religions could or could not say… what other religions could or could not do.

For a person of faith, all of this must be examined in the context of what he or she believes to be religious truth. If there is such a thing as ultimate religious truth, then there is such a thing as good and bad religion. And the freedom to choose one or the other does not change the fact that one or the other will finally, in the end, be true. In the end, one or the other will finally be false.

For example, suppose a person believed that he had the ability to fly. He certainly would have the right to believe what he wanted to believe. But when it came time to jump off the roof and prove that he could fly… the law of gravity would overrule his belief, and he would come crashing down to the ground unless, of course, he really did have the ability to fly. And if he didn’t actually have the ability to fly, he would then also have the freedom to be dead… or at least seriously injured!

Regarding the Iraqi elections, the question of religious and political freedoms seemed to be wrought with potential conflict. For the first time in half a century, the people had the freedom to go to the polls and vote according to their conscience. But on many levels, it was also a test of their freedom of religion.

Clerics had taken vocal and divergent public stands on how they believed the Iraqi people should vote. In a society where religion dictates so much of public life, that influence was quite significant. Did the people have freedom to choose a political direction, or was it a test of religious power for the divergent branches of Islam? Will the freedom to choose eventually end up with the Iraqi people choosing to submit once again to the authoritarian voice of militant clerics? And should they have the freedom to choose that road, if it might lead to more global conflict?

In a different generation, college students of the 60’s demonstrated for freedoms they felt they deserved. They wanted the freedom to use drugs, the freedom to have “free sex” and the freedom to defy the draft (among other things). Many of the people in positions of political power in America today, come from that generation!

Sadly, in many cases, the freedom to use drugs became the freedom to die early. The freedom to have “free sex” became the freedom to catch debilitating diseases. The freedom to defy the draft became the freedom to live in exile from the blessings of American citizenship.

In your college experience, you will find that you have the freedom to attend class… or not to. You’ll have the freedom to participate in academic discussions… or sit them out. You’ll have the freedom to party… or to study. You’ll have the freedom to get your degree… or spend the rest of your life working at McDonald’s (until some zit-faced kid becomes your boss and lets you go).

We each are faced with decisions every day… opportunities to exercise our freedoms. But freedoms exercised carry with them consequences earned. How you choose to use your freedoms will probably have a significant impact on how you live the rest of your life.

I pray that you’ll use these exciting years in school to expand your opportunities for the future. You are in the perfect place to make a difference in your life. Exercise your freedoms for the good. E-mail us and tell us what’s up in your life. We’re on your side!

Dave Weeden
The Collegiate Letter