The terms freedom and equality make it into our political narrative quite frequently. Why wouldn’t they? I mean, who could be against either? That’s like asking a candidate whether they’re in favor of happiness and prosperity. My question is whether this freedom and equality is based in legitimacy.
We Christians are certainly strong supporters of freedom. The pilgrims came here for freedom to practice their worship of God. We hear the words of Paul “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1); and the words of Jesus “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36).
We’re also big fans of equality. We believe in a unity across cultural and ethnicity lines: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28). We also believe in equality before God: “with God there is no respect of persons” (Rom 2:11, KJV).
Unfortunately, when politicians talk about freedom and equality, they often mean something different. When progressives speak of freedom they often include “freedom from want” (see FDR and “four freedoms”). You may have heard them use the standard line that people lacking the economic resources to enjoy their freedoms are not truly free. Similarly, for equality they often mean “equality of outcomes”. That two people who have different amounts of stuff are not equal.
It is these notions that I would like to address today. For they run counter to what I feel is a Christian worldview, making it quite disconcerting when this philosophy finds itself a home in the church.
First, let us begin with pride. I won’t recapitulate the entire scripture reference here, but Ezekiel 28:12-19 has a good discussion on pride. Pride which raises one up to think more highly of himself than he ought. Pride that allows one to place himself above God (in his own mind anyway). This is a pride that man continually struggles with – it is the nature of our rebellion in Eden. Pride tells me that I am inherently special and of greater value (or wisdom, character, talent, etc.) than those around me. Pride tells me that I am the center of the universe; that life is correctly ordered with me in the middle and all other things orbiting around.
From pride we spring to envy quite easily. If I make a determination of value based on monetary wealth or achievement, then pride will spin into envy in a moment. You see, if I am the most valuable, wise, intelligent human – the “center” if you will; but you have more achievement, success, wealth, beauty; well, my world is out of balance. I must either dismiss my initial premise of pride … maybe I’m not the center of the world. Or, I can label you a thief, a cheater, an oppressor. How else could you have risen above me – the greatest.
So, we have pride and its spawn envy. How does all of this relate to politics? Well, it speaks rather clearly to the Rooseveltian and progressive definition of freedom and equality. I won’t attempt here to make the obvious argument that the notion of having sufficient means to exercise freedom is a departure from fundamental freedom. That it conflates wants and needs with inherent human nature and rights endowed by our Creator. Rather I will make the simple argument based on standard of living.
Human living conditions in 2010 in the United States of America are among the best the world has ever known. I’ve seen cardboard shacks of normal folks in the hills of Nicaragua – you have to look really hard to find equivalent conditions in America. Further, the living conditions 150 years ago were dramatically less than they are now. The wealthy in 1860 had less modern plumbing, heating, water purification, and sanitization benefits than do the modern American poor. Thus, the argument of freedom and equality based on material well being is a changing argument. The one who is not “free” today would be considered free if they had the same level of living conditions removed by 100 years or a few dozen degrees of latitude. This should bother the rational mind. Freedom must be a constant, not a moving target.
The reason for these changes is simple. The progressives define freedom in relation to the prosperity of the surrounding society. As the wealth of the nation increases, the economic cutoff for “freedom” also moves. This gives us quite a bit of insight into the meaning of freedom and equality for progressives. Indeed, they are correct, in that their adherents are not free. They are in bondage to this day – the bondage of envy. Effectively, they have said “we are not free – as long as we are bound by envy of those with greater wealth”. This is envy, and is clearly the spawn of pride. We know its source. We also know that it ought to have no place in Christian political thought.
We further note that the progressives have usurped the authority of God. It is Christ who died to set us free … “free indeed”. But here we see the progressive government attempting to set people “free”. Not through redemption, but by an elimination of their need to feel envy. (Instead of addressing pride issues, the progressives reinforce them – casting the prosperous as oppressors.) This is a corruption of the intent of God, a corruption based on pride.
Do we need to go any further? Is the source of this not clear? A pride-based corruption of the redemptive mission of Christ in our lives ought to be enough to send everyone running (or kneeling).
In the end, I find a great weakness in the progressive notion of freedom and equality. It is eerie, to say the least. It is not consistent with what I find in my Bible.