Freedom is Risky - Coercion Is Tyranny
Updated: Jan 29
Lovers of liberty are aware that the American government has increasingly been characterized by totalitarian principles. Totalitarianism is a form of government that attempts to maintain total control over the lives of its citizens. It seeks to control and direct all aspects of individual life through coercion and suppression. In a totalitarian state, the government controls the economy and the media, it suppresses free speech and the freedom of association, it seeks control through aggressive nationalism, militarism, and expansionism, and it relies upon government schools and compliant pulpits to promote its agenda. The state does not tolerate non-compliance, therefore dissidents are silenced, shamed, imprisoned or even killed. Under totalitarianism, which is the ultimate expression of authoritarianism, there is no freedom for the individual, only for certain groups: those who are controlled by the state. As long as you agree with the authoritarian, and refrain from dissent, you are “free” to do as you please, or more accurately, what pleases the state. Many Americans claim to be free, but in reality they are what is known as "sheeple", people that - like sheep - mindlessly and blindly follow the herd and allow the government to dictate their lives.
I am reminded of a parallel in theology, something known as compatibilist “freedom.” This is the nonsensical notion that a choice can be both free and yet dictated by another being, simultaneously. However, this is not freedom - not in human relations, and not in our relation to God. Over against compatibilism in theology stands libertarian free will, the only concept that captures what it truly means to be free. Libertarian freedom is the ability to choose without being forced through external control. It means we have the ability to choose freely between alternatives. Though there are consequences, both good and bad, depending on our choices, we are free to choose our own path. This principle is what allows us to have a genuine and meaningful relationship with the Lord (and others). The ability of contrary choice is essential for the simple reason that love, submission, and obedience must be freely chosen (making the opposite choices equal possibilities) to truly be love, submission, and obedience. The Lord could have forced everyone to follow him, but it is evident they do not, therefore it is certain he did not decree this. In this way, freedom is risky. God took the risk that we might not obey him. But he considered the possibility of genuine reciprocal relationships to be worth the risk. The Lord commands us, and seeks to persuade and influence us, but he does not force us to yield to his moral law. Forced compliance may result in external conformity, but it is only an illusion, it is not true obedience.
In human relations, forced compliance is tyrannical. Even if the authoritarians believe their ideals are noble and they seek to justify them in the name of safety and the well-being of the populace, forced compliance becomes the greatest hazard to the very safety and well-being they propose. Why? Because it is through the consequences of our freely chosen actions and the freely chosen actions of others that we learn. When our own volitions are seen as the cause and effect of our moral character and happiness, it can have a purifying impact on our lives. When a man learns to choose "good" for its own sake, it is then that he begins to develop a virtuous character, and it is then that his life becomes a witness to the glory and goodness of God. There is no virtue in "right" action when that action is dictated, forced, or determined by someone else. Tyranny is more dangerous than freedom is risky, even if it forces people to act in a preferable way, because automatons do not learn. Life is pointless apart from the acquisition of virtue and moral understanding.
Compulsion will not win hearts. It will only create a façade of righteousness. We should seek to convince our fellowman of virtuous ideals through reason, not force or the threat of force. Some will be converted and some will not, but at least you will know who is really with you and who is against you, and the lines will not be blurred between the believers and the make-believers. Whether in the divine project, or in human society, there are risks involved with true freedom. Just as some people do not do what God wants them to do, people in society will not do what we want them to do. But our Creator believed that free will, even with its riskiness, would yield the most meaningful and worthy results. We humans would do well to follow his lead.