April 5, 2012
What does freedom have to do with rising from the dead?
When America was in its infancy and struggling to find a culture and frustrated at governance from Great Britain, the word most frequently uttered in speeches and pamphlets and letters was not safety or taxes or peace; it was freedom.
Two acts of Parliament broke the bonds with the mother country irreparably. The first was the Stamp Act, which was enforced by British soldiers writing their own search warrants and rummaging through the personal possessions of colonists looking to see whether they had purchased the government’s stamps. The second was the imposition of a tax to pay for the Church of England, which the colonists were forced to pay, no matter their religious beliefs.
The Stamp Act assaulted the right to be left alone in the home, and the tax for the Church of England assaulted the freedom to choose to support one’s own means of worship. The two taxes together caused many colonists to realize they needed to secede from England and form their own country in which freedom would be protected by the government, not assaulted by it.
Today it seems the power of the government continues to expand and the freedom of the individual continues to shrink. The loss of freedom comes in many forms. Sometimes it is direct and profound, as when the government stops you from doing what you formerly had the freedom to do – like choose your own doctor and your own health care insurance or choose not to have health care insurance. Sometimes it is more subtle – like when the government prints money to pay its bills and, as a result, all the money you already have loses much of its value. And sometimes the government steals freedom without you knowing it – like when federal agents write their own search warrants, authorizing themselves to learn of your computer use or medical or banking records; and they never tell you what they’ve done.
Freedom is the ability of every person to exercise his own free will, rather than be subject to the will of someone else. Free will is the essence of humanity, and humanity is God’s greatest gift. When the government affirmatively takes away freedom, the government violates the natural law; it prevents us from having and utilizing the means to the truth. Your moral ability to exercise your free will to seek the truth is your natural right, and the government may only morally interfere with the exercise of that right when you have used fraud or force to interfere with the exercise of someone else’s natural rights.
We know from the events 2,000 years ago, which Christians commemorate and celebrate this week, that freedom is the essential means to discover and unite with the truth. And to Christians, the personification, the incarnation, the perfect manifestation of truth is the Son of God.
On the first Holy Thursday, Jesus attended a traditional Jewish Passover Seder. Catholics believe that at that last supper, He performed two miracles so that we could stay united to Him. He transformed ordinary bread and wine into His own body, blood, soul and divinity, and He empowered His disciples and their successors to do the same.
On the first Good Friday, the government executed Him for claiming to be the Son of God. He had the freedom to reject this horrific event, but He exercised His freedom so that we might know the truth. The truth He manifested is that His acceptance of the destruction of His body would demonstrate to us that we can liberate our souls from the slavery of sin and our free wills from the oppression of the government. Three days later, on Easter, that manifestation was complete when He triumphed over death by rising from the dead.
Easter is the linchpin of human existence: With it, life is worth living, no matter its cost or pain. Without it, life is meaningless, no matter its fleeting joys or triumphs. Easter has a meaning that is both incomprehensible and simple. It is incomprehensible that a human being had the freedom to rise from the dead. It is simple because that human being was and is God. Easter means that there is hope for the dead. And if there’s hope for the dead, there’s hope for the living.
But, like the colonists who fought the oppression of the king, we the living can only achieve our hopes if we have freedom. And that requires a government that protects freedom, not one that shrinks it.
Do we have such a government today?