Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rules or Freedom?

I lived overseas for nearly 30 years. After returning to the United States, people often asked me,  “What is it like coming back after so long?” A number of times I’ve answered, “It’s a different country than the one I left.”

“Duh,” you might say, “that’s profound.”

Let me explain.

In a word, it seems rules are replacing our freedoms.

When I was a boy my neighbor’s black Labrador, “Midnight,” roamed the block. He always knew where home was. He kind of had a relationship with everyone on the block. I remember the day he and “Joey,” the big collie at the end of the street, got in a fight. In a way, “Midi” was our dog.

Last week my brother-in-law told me about local leash laws. If a dog is running free, that person is liable for a hefty fine. What’s the problem? Isn’t it good to protect people from belligerent dogs? Yes, - but a little bit of our personal freedom has been chipped away.

Rules replace relationships and self-responsibility to do right. They force desired behavior.

By the way, I’m not against rules.

There are building codes, fire codes, motor vehicle inspections, garbage recycling rules, background checks for employment, … commissions, agencies, councils, forms, waivers, ad nauseum.

You must yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. There is no satisfaction of doing it out of kindness because it’s the right thing to do. It’s only possible to break the rule, be glared at, or worse.

Is there virtue in doing what is required?

Today many people want smaller government, because more departments means more spending. But more departments also mean less freedom.

Before my decades overseas, Americans were more governed by inner moral absolutes than now.  Admittedly it had been waning for a long time even then, but society held a broad (if imperfect) consensus about right and wrong. It was the Judaeo-Christian ethic. We didn’t need as many laws because people broadly agreed about what was right.

Today we make laws.

If we can’t agree about what is right or wrong, then we have to make rules to protect individual rights. More rules reduce freedom. I’ll never know the “Midnights” of my block unless I go to the pet park. The focus is on protecting my rights by legislating behavior, not on freedom and responsibility to choose to be loving.

What’s the spiritual lesson in this?

In the Bible, Paul wrote, “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.” Rules do not “impart life.”[1] The more rules we make, the further from real life we get.

If we’re guided by an inner ethic based on the common good, of which the biblical Christian ethic stands out unique in the world, then just a few rules will suffice.

That is one difference I see in the United States now. We are exchanging our freedom for rules.

[1] Galatians 3:21

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Quotes of Note ... The Invisible World

“Spiritual warfare is learning to recognize the strategies, refusing to cooperate with them, and aggressively cutting off the schemes of the devil in Jesus’ name.” Dean Sherman

“those who protest that God cannot exist because there is too much evil evident in life… Evil exists; therefore, the Creator does not. That is categorically stated… If evil exists, one must assume that good exists in order to know the difference. If good exists, one must assume that a moral law exists by which to measure good and evil. But if a moral law exists, must not one posit an ultimate source of moral law, or at least an objective basis for a moral law? By an objective basis, I mean something that is transcendingly true at all times, regardless of whether I believed it or not.” Ravi Zacharias

“But the Devil is no big threat to God’s purposes; he is not even remotely comparable in power. He has been given a limited time before his final judgment to try to prove his case, just as all other moral beings who have chosen to live in rebellion against heaven.” W.A. Pratney

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I've served as a life-long missionary in Samoa, the Pacific region, India, and now in Pennsylvania. The Christian faith is reasonable and works in real life. It is true to the facts. Hope you enjoy some of the thoughts. I appreciate feedback.

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