Friday, September 05th, 2008 | Author:

Favorite Founding Father's Quote Day

[This post is part of the Favorite Founders' Quote Friday sponsored by Meet the Founding Fathers. Go to the site to see who else has participated today.]

As our FFQF theme for September is “liberty” and “liberty” is becoming an historical concept rather than something we experience, it seemed appropriate to me that the month should begin with a definition of the word. (You might also want to read Ron Paul’s speech in my last post that coincidentally is about this same subject.) So here are some definitions:

from Wiktionary:
1. The condition of being free from control or restrictions 2. The condition of being free from imprisonment, slavery, or forced labour. 3. The condition of being free to act, believe or express oneself as one chooses. 4. Freedom from excess government control

from my trusty old Webster’s unabridged:
1. freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control 2. freedom from external or foreign rule; independence 3. freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice

from the trustier, older (1743-1826) Thomas Jefferson, and the purpose of today’s post (I love this one!)

Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.

from a letter to Isaac Hall Tiffany, Esq., April 4, 1819, while Tiffany resided in “Schoharie Bridge” NY (my backyard)

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5 Responses
  1. Hercules Mulligan says:

    That’s an excellent point you make about liberty becoming more of a historical concept rather than something that is experienced — something that was not just for country bumpkins marching around with wigs and stockings and buckle-shoes, but something that is practical here and now.

    Your quote for today is thought-provoking, indeed. It’s got me asking questions, but probably too many to ask right now. The one foremost in my mind is basically, where does one draw the line between liberty and justice? Liberty is just, but one cannot make human liberty totally unlimited, otherwise (due to the sinful state of man’s fallen nature), liberty turns to licentiousness, and there is no true freedom.

    In a time and age when Christians in America face this kind of dilemma, we certainly need to pay attention to this intriguing subject.

    Thanks for participating in FFQF! It was a blast!

  2. akaGaGa says:

    If I understand your point, my views on this have been gradually changing over the last couple years. I used to think that laws against, say, sexual immorality, were needed and just, but that leads to your point – where do you draw the line?

    I have finally decided that just because something is abhorrent to me does not mean it should be illegal. The more things we make illegal, the less freedom people have to choose the right thing.

    I remember being infuriated many years ago when, about a year after I started wearing a seatbelt, they made it a law. This made me want to stop wearing one, because the positive feeling from my good decision was taken away from me.

    I think laws about these things make people less apt to choose the right thing, rather than more. More importantly, with too many laws, people stop making choices at all and, instead, just do as they’re told. Now, that’s a scary proposition.

    As always, your comments are appreciated.

  3. Hercules Mulligan says:

    Hi Jean. Thanks for your thoughtful response, and inviting me to share mine.

    I too believe that just because I find something abhorrent does not mean that the government has to make it illegal. However, because there are moral absolutes, and because violations of some of those absolutes have immediate and far-reaching consequences on society as a whole, legal measures should be taken. For example, murder, theft, etc. are punishable by law. When our Founding Fathers held office, adultery and sodomy were illegal, and in several states, punishable by death.

    Why? Those things were not just abhorrent to the Founders, and to their contemporaries. Those sins are destructive to the very pillars of human society, and must be held in check. Now, these laws did not need to be enforced every day, because the people governed themselves by the law of God, which clearly forbids those things. They saw these laws and statutes, not as the government not respecting freedom of choice, but as an observation of the law of God, which they themselves obeyed. These laws were to punish the infrequent exceptions.

    Sure we limit the ability of people to choose the right thing on their own when we make things illegal. But people seem to be more inclined to choose the wrong thing rather than the right thing, when they can get away with it and when they are tempted. Isn’t that what happens in society a lot today?

    Laws cannot change society. They cannot change people. They can only hold the bad passions of men in check. That’s what laws are for. But the less virtue people exercise on their own, the more they have need of masters. I’ve written about this concept, which I’m sure you understand, here.

    I completely sympathize with your feelings about such ridiculous legislation as the seat belt law, and so forth. But we are not supposed to react to laws based upon how they make us feel. I’m sure that much of what I’ve said above is already familiar to you, but the point of what I am trying to say is that, liberty, or the freedom of people to make decisions, is not the goal of government. The government is certainly to protect liberty, but if it is given the choice between protect the right to choose, and simply keeping society from falling into total chaos, it has the unfortunate obligation (and tendency) to choose the latter. Liberty is preserved and maintained by individuals, by exercising and encouraging virtue. Order is preserved and maintained by the institution of government, and the things which destroy order in society (this includes sexual immorality) are to be kept in check. But then again, since the government cannot change human beings and make them do what is right, order is the responsibility of a free people, as well.

  4. akaGaGa says:

    You’ve got my brain whirling again, Herky, but my time today is limited, so this will have to be brief – and maybe that’s a good thing, cause I don’t think we’re completely on the same page on this one. :)

    If we go back to Jefferson’s quote, I still stand by the idea that “rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”

    Obviously, this puts theft, rape, and murder, etc., within the realms of government law, so I will focus on the so-called victimless crimes.

    How do we then as Christians address adultery, for instance? Two consenting adults make a very bad choice, that hurts not just them and God, but their families and society as a whole.

    Does making it illegal help them come to know Christ, or merely make them fearful of being arrested? You said laws cannot change society, and I agree. So I guess it comes down to defining our objective: do we want to change and control society in the here and now, or do we want to lead people to eternal life with Christ? I’m coming to believe that the two are mutually exclusive, and laws such as these prevent people from hearing God. Thus, any adherence is merely outward show, not inward change, fostering hypocrisy – and a tendency towards those t-shirts and bumper stickers you love so much.

    I think this all falls under the heading of “Getting in God’s Way” – a post which I have yet to write. :)

    Simply following Jesus’ example, the adulteress woman is not condemned or stoned, but told to go and sin no more. This leaves room for the Holy Spirit to convict, which my personal experience proves He is quite good at doing. And when He does, the woman either repents and changes her entire life from the inside out, or rejects the message of the gospel and consigns herself to hell. A law making it illegal prevents her from coming face to face with God, and leaves no room for His kindness, which leads to repentance. (Romans 2:4)

    And that’s all I have time for right now. Does all this fall under the category of iron sharpening iron? :)

    Blessings to you and yours, Herky. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to discuss these things.

  5. Hercules Mulligan says:

    Hi Jean. I’m sorry for my absence; I’ve been a bit short on time myself. I too will try to make my remarks brief.

    I don’t think it is too big a deal that we are not completely “on the same page” where this issue is concerned. But I do think it is important that we realize the separate and distinct roles of government and church, and that law and order must be the first priority of government.

    In answer to your question, “Does making laws against crimes like adultery help the guilty come to know Christ, or does it just make them afraid of arrest?” I would simply begin by saying that civil justice is the job of the government. It is not the job of the government to insure conversions. That is the Church’s job. The job of government should certainly make every allowance for the Church to do this work, and should not be a hindrance.

    I think that the absence of a statute or law against adultery, communicates a kind of message that adultery isn’t all that bad, or faithfulness all that important. When people begin to think that they can get away with those serious kinds of things, society more rapidly decays, and that is what is happening now. Even if a law can’t make people change their hearts, at least it will help restrain their evil actions, and keep society together longer. That’s all that government can and should do.

    I don’t think that legislation against adultery, etc., would bar people from Christ, or discourage them from accepting the Gospel. If such legislation would have that kind of effect, than why did God institute a severe death penalty for adultery, in the Law of Moses? For two reasons: 1) to show the Hebrews how seriously wrong adultery is, and 2) to at least keep the sin under control, for the survival of their society. It’s true that, as Paul pointed out, the Law couldn’t change the problem of sin in the heart, but at least it helped to kee the Hebrew nation together, and showed them God’s righteous standard.

    Usually, the most effective way in which the Gospel of Christ works to save someone starts with conviction of their own sin. People don’t appreciate God’s love and kindness until they see how holy God is, how evil and harmful sin is, and what it cost God to redeem them. Laws against sins like adultery at least impart the belief to society in general that, even on a practical level, those things are wrong and harmful. At least such laws may prick the conscience of society. Absence of laws may encourage sinners to feel justified in their behavior. And of course, it sets a low standard for society, opening the floodgates of disaster.

    “A law making it illegal prevents her from coming face to face with God, and leaves no room for His kindness, which leads to repentance. (Romans 2:4)”

    I think that people lost in sin do not appreciate the kindness of God, nor do they realize it, until they have been convicted, and become aware of the seriousness of sin. I think that modern Christian evangelism has made the mistake of introducing the love, forgiveness, and kindness of God to the sinner, before they have introduced the desperate need of man for those things, and how undeserving man is to receive them. It seems that many who claim to have received Christ have difficulties serving God out of gratitude for that reason.

    For this reason, I think that making it illegal would be more beneficial than harmful. It would also be safer.

    Your comments did get me thinking, too. I appreciate the opportunity we have to discuss these things, and yes, I think it falls under the category of iron sharpening iron. Some people seem to think that it’s terrible for people to disagree or argue, but without that, we would have no reason to check our beliefs for error, or test our right ones. If we did that, we would wind up taking even truth for granted. I know you are busy (and so am I, so I must go), but thanks so much for taking the time to read my long comments and add your own.

    God bless you and your family.