What is the meaning of freedom?
This has been, and always will be, a current issue up for debate. Is it just a term we can look up in the dictionary or does it have different meanings depending on the source or world view?
I believe that freedom is a responsibility that God has given to mankind.
Galatians 5:13 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
And that verse is just about Christians who have faith in Christ.
Genesis 1:26-27 speaks of God putting His image into every man and woman. This means that we have freedom due to our very ontological nature. And the Genesis passage explains that we have it for the reason that we could rule over creation.
But taken from a humanistic viewpoint, we have varying understandings of freedom.
Freedom, on an individual level, is given to allow for making choices between right and wrong, good and evil, and in many cases it is the best decision using what wisdom is available.
Henry Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr. both wrote about civil disobedience and both saw it as a form of fighting injustice. However, they did not share the same views on man’s responsibility within society. I will compare and contrast these views and conclude with a further explanation of my own meaning of freedom.
Eleanor Roosevelt said1 that “the preservation of human freedom” was a great issue.
Henry Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr. saw the importance of fighting for and preserving that freedom. They each saw injustice in their daily lives and sought to stand up to injustice through civil disobedience. Though Martin Luther King Jr. spent more time incarcerated for his actions, he and Henry Thoreau saw the importance of accepting the given punishment for their actions rather than seeking a violent resistance to authority.
There was a difference in their approaches as Thoreau sought to have little contact with government while Martin Luther King Jr. sought negotiation to cause change.
Thoreau responded2 with a question to a friend who asked why he (Thoreau) was in jail. He asked, “Why aren’t you in jail?”.
There were no efforts towards change by Thoreau, before being arrested. He decided not to pay a tax that he thought was wrong and expected to be left alone about it. Rather than seek change, he isolated himself and simply did not pay the tax.
Martin Luther King Jr., however, named3 three important actions to complete before direct action leading to arrest.
The first two steps were to collect facts to make sure that injustice was present, and then to attempt negotiation. This was a huge difference as Thoreau believed that an individual had the right to decide what constituted injustice, without having facts or using legal determinations.
Martin Luther King Jr. sought to negotiate and argue his point with authority, rather than simply disobey with no further measures. In essence, Thoreau immediately disobeyed while Martin Luther King Jr. used civil disobedience as a final measure when all other avenues had failed.Hold the authorities liable based on their own ideals and not against them. #justice Click To Tweet
Freedom and Social/Civic Responsibility
I believe that each Thoreau and King had a clear view of what constituted injustice, but I agree more with King’s approach. I think that this stems from his view of the role of an individual in society.
While Thoreau believed that each individual should be able to act on what they believed, King saw the room for negotiation and reasonable compromise.
King sought to correct injustice through already standing legal avenues; rather than circumvent authority, he sought to plead his case within the appropriate social structures. If this approach did not work, then he saw it fit to disobey in order to correct an injustice.
I believe that for a free society to function, individuals must accept a civic responsibility.
There are two extreme choices that are made in society; to completely accept government mandates without question or to see it as acceptable to disobey anything that an individual disagrees with.
Wisdom would choose a middle ground and seek to work with authority and exhaust legal optionsCorrect #injustice through already standing legal avenues. Click To Tweet
Racism is an extreme injustice and had to be fought with civil disobedience, but King fought to make African-Americans equal under the terms of the constitution. He held the authorities liable based on their own ideals and not against them.
In conclusion, freedom is the allowance to make choices, whether good or bad.
Freedom is the opportunity to do what is right, or best, not by force, but by social conscience.
Therefore, social responsibility is inherent in freedom and freedom relies on social responsibility. The founding fathers acted because they felt a responsibility to society to create a free democracy and could not sit by while injustice as prevalent.
They, like King, sought negotiation and put up with many unfair laws, like the Stamp Act and the taxes on tea. They acted only because all other avenues had failed but they could not ignore their social responsibility.
These men, the founding fathers and Martin Luther King Jr., are great examples of how God intends freedom to be used and the importance of social and civic activity.
Also published on Medium.
- Roosevelt, E. (1948). Civil Rights and Conflict in the United States: Selected Speeches. Retrieved from http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/185/civil-rights-and-conflict-in-the-united-states-selected- speeches/4853/the-struggle-for-human-rights-paris-france-september-28-1948/
- McElroy, W. (2005). Henry Thoreau and ‘Civil Disobedience’ . Retrieved from http://thoreau.eserver.org/wendy.html
- King, M. (1963). Letter from Birmingham Jail. Retrieved from https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king- papers/documents/letter-birmingham-jail.