Saturday, February 21, 2009

Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Gingersnaps

By: Jenny Bruce

I think that my growing conviction about the need to protect personal freedom is directly linked to my love of dessert buffets. Dessert is serious business and frankly, I resent someone else dictating my choices on such an important matter. I confess that I die a little inside when I discover we're all being served rhubarb pie at the end of a meal. But my heart leaps for joy when I survey a decadent spread of cookies, candies, pies, and cakes and I can choose whatever I want! Selfish? Maybe. Ungrateful? Probably. Greedy? Yes. But if you ever come to my house for a party, you can expect at least three desserts.

It was only a matter of time before this obsession with buffeting my body spilled over into the rest of my thinking. If I'm perturbed by a lack of dessert options, imagine my reaction when my HOA informed me I couldn't hang red striped curtains in my front window. Yet even I will concede that sometimes we must limit our personal freedoms for the good of society. I think traffic lights are a splendid idea. And I'm cool with theft being illegal. But there are some areas where the issue of personal freedom versus the good of society can be a bit cloudier. Consider the following examples.

1. The Driving Age. Under California law, you must be 15 1/2 to get a driver's permit and begin behind the wheel practice, thus limiting the rights of both the minors and their parents to determine an appropriate driving age. But some would argue that such laws prevent driving fatalities.

2. Smoking In Restaurants. The great state of California declared smoking in restaurants illegal in 1994, thus limiting the personal freedom of restaurant owners to run their business as they wish. (Hat Tip to Stan McCullars' comment on Andrew's last post for this idea!) But some would argue that this protects public health.

3. Social Security. Most American tax-payers must contribute to this government run retirement plan, thus limiting their personal freedom to invest or spend their money in the way they see fit. But some would argue that social security provides for people after they retire and promotes the welfare of our nation.

4. Home Owners Associations. My HOA has a slew of rules I must follow, thus limiting my freedom to hang adorable curtains and dry laundry on my back porch, even though it's my home and I'm footing the mortage bill. But some would argue that limiting freedoms makes all the condos on my street look appropriate and presentable and ensures higher property values.

So here are my questions for you. How should Christians view their personal liberty in light of being a good citizen? When does limiting personal freedom benefit society? When does limiting personal freedom harm society? And where do you personally draw the line?

As always, I love to hear your thoughts. I'm off to eat chocolate. Or maybe snickerdoodles. Or maybe ice cream. Or maybe all three.


Anonymous said...

I publish a blog with a couple friends, one of which recently posted an excellent piece on the meaning of "freedom." He contrasts our culture's concepts of libertarian freedom derived from the Enlightenment with a Biblical concept of freedom as "slaves of righteousness."

You can see it at

Anonymous said...

Great post! You raise some very interesting questions.

Thanks for the hat tip.

In drawing the line I would ask a couple of questions.

a.) Is the restriction voluntary?

b.) Does the benefit of the restriction far outweigh the cost?

Looking at your four examples:

1.) It seems the benefit far outweighs the cost. Few 15 year-olds are capable of safely driving a car as evidenced by their extraordinarily high likelihood of having an accident. It might even be prudent to raise the age to 30. OK. Maybe 18 or 19 for guys anyway. There is, to some degree, a voluntary aspect to this one. Kids do not need to drive a car. A bus will carry them to and from school if need be.

2.) No excuse for restrictions in this area. This is a perfect example of the state violating property rights which is one of the things they're allegedly intended to protect. Eating at a restaurant is totally voluntary for the citizens. No one must eat out. Thus, there is no health benefit. If one doesn't go to a restaurant where people are smoking they will not be exposed to the smoke there. Pack a lunch or eat at home.

3.) Another example of government intrusion/theft. Individuals, if allowed, would voluntarily choose whether or not to save for retirement. If they make a wise decision they can avoid living in a homeless shelter. That may sound harsh but life can be tough. I don't want to end up in a homeless shelter so I give up the current use of my income in order to hopefully have enough to live independently later. Others can and should do the same. Please note that people are free to provide funds for others to keep the poor planners and unfortunate from having to live in a shelter.

4.) Totally voluntary. If one doesn't want to abide by the restrictions they shouldn't buy or rent in a deed restricted neighborhood. My wife and I knew the restrictions before purchasing our condo. So did the other owners. They, and we, were not required to buy here and can leave at any time.

Just a few thoughts.