Musings on Freedom: The Fourth of July

When do you feel the greatest sense of freedom?

Freedom from Responsibility

Is it when you’re getting off work on a Friday afternoon with a weekend of leisure stretching before you?

Is it when you’re standing on the top of a mountain with the wind blowing through your hair looking down on a pristine mountain lake?

Is it when your husband or wife comes home from work and is available to watch the children, so you can go on a long walk by yourself?

Most people feel good when responsibilities lessen or when they can experience the beauty of nature, but there are other kinds of freedom.

Political Freedom

July 4th is a special day of celebration for Americans. We eat hamburgers and hotdogs at festive barbecues, shoot off fireworks, and generally express gratitude for our liberty. The Fourth of July is the day the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence which signaled release from the tyranny of England. I imagine the Founding Fathers felt a wonderful sense of opportunity as they walked out of that building in Philadelphia after signing that important paper.

Most countries celebrate some kind of independence day. Bolivians gained their freedom from Spain on August 6, signing their own Declaration of Independence. The Chinese celebrate the beginning of the People’s Republic of China on October 1st. The French celebrate release from royal tyranny on July 14, the day the peasants stormed the Bastille. In each of these cases, political freedom was achieved from an oppressor, causing a sense of exhilaration and dreams of  a potentially better future.

Deeper Freedom

A deeper type of freedom than political exists, however. I call it heart freedom.

Heart freedom is something we don’t think about too often, yet it is one of the most important things humans need in life. And, it can be found through virtue.


Most people think being virtuous is some kind of prudish following of rules that restrict us. In popular  thinking, rules stop us from doing what we want, so rules are the antithesis of freedom.

The reality, though, is that doing what is right frees us.

Think about any culture’s rules of virtue. (They are often very similar by the way.) As an example, think about the Jewish Torah’s 10 Commandments.

Honoring parents is a way to develop a good relationship with the ones who bore and raised you. A good relationship with parents leads to positive things while fighting with parents causes tension and struggle. It enslaves the heart.

Telling the truth rather than lying helps us avoid the horrible, heart-enslaving feeling of having to create more and more lies in order to cover up for the first one.

Loving one husband or wife rather than cheating on him or her (committing adultery) gives a wonderful sense of liberty. There is nothing quite like walking through life hand in hand with someone who loves you and is committed to you.

Is there any question that we feel more free if we don’t hate people (murder), covet things, or have to worry about someone catching us if we steal something?

Why do We Often Run Away from Freedom?

So why do people not choose virtue over vice? Humans seem to have a special ability to be self-centered and do evil. William Golding called it “man’s essential illness.”

Whatever you believe about human nature, can we agree that virtue leads to freedom? It’s something worth having. Release from responsibility is refreshing. Political liberty is necessary for society to advance. But heart freedom is what we as individuals need in a very deep way.

Maybe we need to rethink the value of virtue. Seek to be virtuous, and you will find heart freedom. That is a good thing to contemplate on the 4th of July.

“He that is kind is free, though a slave; he that is evil is a slave, though a king.”  

Saint Augustine (354-430) Theologian.

“The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where there is no law,

there is no freedom.” 

John Locke (1632-1704) Philosopher

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) Anti-apartheid revolutionary & President of South Africa


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