It was a perfect question for contemplation on July 4, 2019, Independence Day, America’s 243rd birthday. Every American citizen and those who aspire to citizenship should read “Last Call for Liberty: How America’s Genius for Freedom Has Become Its Greatest Threat” by Os Guinness (InterVarsity Press, 2018). Warns Guinness, “The greatest threat to freedom is freedom itself.”
In his profound work, Guinness poses 10 questions, the first the title to this commentary. Do you truly comprehend the roots of the freedoms we celebrate every July? Do you understand God’s role in our freedom, the great gift of the Jews and the teachings of the Torah? Why we are a constitutional republic and not a direct democracy?
Guinness’ other nine questions are equally provocative: Are there enough Americans who care about freedom? What do you mean by freedom? Have you faced up to the central paradox of freedom? How do you plan to sustain freedom? How will you make the world safe for diversity? How do you justify your vision of a free and open society? Where do you ground your faith in human freedom? Are you vigilant about the institutions crucial to freedom? A republic or a democracy? Are you vigilant about the ideas crucial to freedom? Which revolution do they serve?
The last question rests on his argument “that America’s fractious and rancorous politics is the outward symptom of the conflict of ideas at the heart of American culture — the tale of two revolutions, 1776 and 1789.” America’s freedom idea has its nexus in the covenants God made with the Jewish people, “the Sinai covenant blended with the ‘ancient liberties of the English.’”
The author illustrates how other revolutions, the French revolution of 1789, for example, began with a quest for freedom, only to end with extensive reliance on the state. How many freedom-seeking revolutions have morphed into oppressive regimes with the deaths of millions? In the long march of recorded history, the American experience remains unique.
Some claim freedom means “you can do anything you want.” Wrong. You have the right to “freedom from…” Our Bill of Rights gives every American certain freedoms. God endowed every human with free will. The freedom to choose is the ultimate freedom and a risk to freedom itself. God gave us commandments, rules we can choose to ignore to our mortal and eternal peril. Governmental bodies and employers have rules with penalties for violations. Every primitive society had rules. Humans operating sans rules are a mess.
We are asked by our country to sacrifice for our freedoms. We celebrate those who gave some and those who gave all, families included. As parents we sacrifice for our children. We sacrifice for spouses, grandchildren, aging parents, dear friends, even strangers. Witnessing devout Jews walking to temple on the Sabbath, Christians rising early to attend services, Muslims praying five set times a day, we appreciate the beauty of sacrifice and allegiance. Americans generally are givers, supporting charitable outreach with time, talent, treasure.
Today we hear too little about faith and responsibility as a pillar of freedom. Ambrose Bierce declared, “Responsibility: A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck, or one’s neighbor.” (The Devil’s Dictionary). In political discourse what happened to personal, family, and financial responsibility, duty, honor, obligation? We seem to be in a race to define more rights others will pay for, entitlements, giveaways, reparations for the sins of history, cancelation of obligations.
Guinness quotes Rabbi Abraham Herschel (1907-1972). “Having lived in Poland and later in Germany, I know what America really means. For generations America was the great promise, the great joy, the last hope of humanity. Ten years ago, if I had said to students that America is a great blessing and an example to the world, they would have laughed at me. Why speak of such banalities? Today one of the saddest experiences of my life is to observe what is happening to America morally. The world once had a great hope, a model: America. What is going to happen to America?” (Moral Grandeur, Spiritual Audacity: Essays, published 1996.)
Citizen, how will you answer Dr. Guinness’ questions, Rabbi Herschel’s moral callings? How do we impress on today’s students what’s at stake? How do we preserve the promise of July 4, 1776, for children, grandchildren, the unborn? Read “Last Call for Liberty” with a highlighter in hand. Stand at attention, hand over heart, as Old Glory passes by or The Star-Spangled Banner is sung. At other times, on your knees pray for our republic, if we can keep it, as Ben Franklin cautioned.
Lewis Walker, CFP®, is a financial life planning strategist at Capital Insight Group; 770-441-3553;email@example.com. Securities & advisory services offered through The Strategic Financial Alliance, Inc. (SFA). Lewis is a registered representative and investment adviser representative of SFA, otherwise unaffiliated with Capital Insight Group. He’s a Gallup Certified Clifton Strengths Coach and Certified Exit Planning Advisor.