Ben Franklin is one of many important names to remember in America during 4th of July festivities in America.There is a famous quote often attributed to him,
It has not been confirmed that this quote is actually his. Nevertheless, it has become a well-known statement, although the sentiment does not seem to be as popular. What can be confirmed is its earliest public use by Gary Strand, and its later elaboration by Marvin Simkin,
“Democracy is not freedom. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. Freedom comes from the recognition of certain rights which may not be taken, not even by a 99% vote.”
Democracy is a kind of sacred-cow of our society. Democracy is still, in general, heralded by people on both sides of the political spectrum. Democracy is good, and I thank God for it, but democracy is not liberty.
That’s right, democracy is not liberty. The two words are not synonymous. The Declaration of Independence recognizes this,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
The Decleration of Independence, one of the foundational documents used for establishing our current democracy, is in this phrase, being inherently undemocratic. That is, this document is declaring self-evident truths that are not up for grabs. These truths are not on the table, and that remains true even if they are in the minority. That means these can’t be voted on. That means that even if the majority of Americans want this to not be true, it simply is.
That’s not democracy of any kind, but it is liberty.
The point being it is possible to imagine a society where a vote could hinder liberty rather than advance it. What if 51% of a population wants to go back to the way things were in 1860? That would mean a whole lot less liberty for a particular group of people in the United States, and it would also mean we were still being as democratic as we ever were. I understand this example seems over-simplistic because United States is not a pure democracy, but a republic. But the point still remains true as long as the United States attempts to be a government for and by the people. Whatever the title is, if the people get to choose, liberty is not guaranteed.
Simply put, a nation can vote its liberty away. A nation with freedom can use said freedom to destroy itself. Thus, it appears, democracy in and of itself is not a virtue. It is a noble attempt at best securing virtue, but is not a virtue itself, for it can be used to destroy liberty.
How then is liberty guaranteed? What makes a person, or a nation, liberated?
The book of James briefly touches on this, and James does so by using a phrase that is likely odd to 21st century American ears: The Law of Liberty (James 1:25).
To many, this is on the surface an oxymoron. When many think of liberty, they think of law as its opposite.
In a nation such as ours, many people are currently fighting a battle to rid themselves of law, and for good reason, because there are simply too many. For many on a certain political spectrum, the government is far too involved in the affairs of citizens. For many, the ideal for establishing liberty does not include a push for law, but a push for society with less law. We want to shake legislation; shake Big Brother, and achieve liberty by removing law.
This is noble. Certainly, governmental legislation can restrict liberty, and is the only way civil liberty can possibly be restricted (although it is also the only way to guarantee its protection).
However, James includes an important definite article: the.
James is not saying that law is liberty. This is certainly not biblical, and is why I still am pro-democracy. I certainly believe democracy is a better way for men to rule over other men than socialism and communism are. However, James here says God’s Law is liberty. Not law, but God’s Law, which James describes as being perfect.
In order then to be free one must become a slave. Liberty is found in Christ. It is found in adhering to His Word. It is found in Him and Him alone. Jesus is the fountainhead of all liberty. Jesus is the standard for defining and promoting liberty. Without Christ, there simply is no such thing.
Any nation that longs to be free must long for and obey Jesus. Any nation that desires true liberty, while it can and ought to be a democratic nation, must ultimately place its allegiance to Christ, not to a philosophy.
Thus what we find here, is that true liberty is found in adhering to God’s Law and having faith in Christ alone. One must structure their life around Christ to find spiritual liberty, and nations must structure their legislation around Him to find such a thing as well. Democracy can be and often is a very good thing, but ultimate liberty is found in Christ and in His Word, it is not found in a vote.
To use the example first mentioned, there is no liberty to be found for the lamb when casting its lunch vote against the two wolves.
Where is his liberty?
To use much more real and serious examples, where is the liberty for the children conceived in an “unplanned” pregnancy who are currently being disemboweled, dismembered, decapitated, burned, or drowned?
Where are their liberties?
The 50 million murdered boys and girls of the American abortion holocaust have seen no liberty at all. They have not been able to see the beautiful bursting colors of a 4th of July fireworks display. They have not been able to hear the National Anthem, or God Bless America echo through the air above crowds joined together to celebrate freedom.They will adorn no red, white and blue apparel ever because their blood has been spilled in the name of liberty.
Their murder has been deemed a liberty; a right. Their lives are less than ours; their bodies belong to us. And that fact continues to remain as the product of democracy. The bloodshed of 50 million Americans has been accomplished, legally, under our nation’s beautiful flag waving in the wind. Under those stripes and stars, amidst the patriotic song singing of the American people flows a strong current of innocent blood. This is all happening legally. I ask again, what are we talking about when we talk about liberty?
Imagine this scenario: A white, southern, plantation owner at his dinner table with his white guests, bragging and boasting about how great his country is because of its freedom and liberty, and then calling his black slave over to refill his drink so his voice does not get hoarse during the conversation.
The irony of that situation is obvious. Yet, we live this situation each and every day when we boast of liberty among the bloodshed of 50 million “terminated pregnancies.” Fifty million times a woman and her doctor have “exercised their right” to “practice reproductive freedom” and “terminate” unplanned pregnancies. The problem is, when one person’s freedoms and rights completely obliterate another person’s freedom and rights, those words can no longer apply. Freedoms and rights only given to particular citizens within this nation at the expense of others are not freedoms, nor are they rights.
The question needs to be asked then, how many people need to be stripped of their most basic human liberty before we begin to ask the question about whether this nation is truly free?
Let’s not forget, there was freedom in America in 1860. Whites were free. Land owners were free. There was plenty of freedom. It was only being witheld from a small minority of people. Other than that, there was freedom. Yet, the 21st century American would hardly label our nation then one of true liberty. So why do we do so today?
How many Christian dating sites will be forced to include homosexuality in their preferences and searches? How many Christian bakers, photographers, and hotel managers will be forced to celebrate something the Law of Liberty declares sinful? Most importantly, how many children will continue to be murdered and sold before we decided that perhaps this nation is not as free as we chant?
In an older blog post about racial reconciliation, Douglas Wilson says this,
“Abortion has been a settled constitutional right for 42 years now. In another 30 years we will have been chopping babies up in the name of the Constitution for as long as blacks were bought and sold under the aegis of the Constitution. And screw this into your minds — our treatment of the unborn is far, far worse than slavery was and involves many more millions of people… [L]ast week, approximately 15,000 children have lost their lives in this country; legally… The 15,000, white and black, who have lost their lives since last week do not have any makeshift memorials springing up anywhere. No flowers propped against fences and no teddy bears left for the nameless. Nobody in any position of significant influence speaks for them with any kind of moral authority. But since we are talking about racial justice here, let us just address that aspect of our national tragedy. Since Roe, about 13 million black children have been executed. 13 million. That is roughly the total population of Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Nebraska. So black lives matter, do they? And coming back to the point, what flag flew over the courthouses that continue to authorize this crimson carnage? What flag was still flying there just this morning? How many more decades before the great principle of flag indignation kicks in? Would the populations of ten more Midwestern states do it? It only took Hitler twelve years to ruin the swastika forever. How many years do we get?”
Yes, God has still been gracious to us in this country. Yes we have far more civil liberties than our brothers and sisters in China, North Korea, Syria, and many other places around the world. This is very true, and we should be thankful to God for these undeserved blessings. However, those piecemeal blessings are clouds not quite big enough to blot out the ominous glow of our national sins. They cannot soak up the blood of 50 million crying our from the ground. They cannot erase the SCOTUS ruling to profane God’s marital institution.
On this 4th of July, I ask, what liberty are we celebrating? In a nation such as ours, what exactly is it we are setting fireworks off for?
Is there much to be grateful about? Yes. Yes there is. God has been good to the Christian church in this country. The fact that I can even write this blog and post it publicly is a tremendous example of the blessed freedom I have, purchased by the blood of thousands of brave American men and women. Yes, we have much to celebrate, and much to thank God for today as Christians in the United States.
But I remind us, true liberty is found in Christ and His Word. True freedom comes to a nation that fears the Lord. And that is not our nation.
However, Jesus is Lord of our nation still, whether we fear Him or not. And He alone, by the working of the Spirit, can change the hearts of men. Thus, we have reason to celebrate, but even more so we have reason to pray.
And all of us ought to do plenty of both today.
Thank God for the undeserved blessings we have. And may God grant repentance to our nation.