Freedom has always been important to Americans, but a short-sighted definition of freedom has played havoc with the common good recently. Communities, essential to our survival and well-being, are suffering.
All communities have rules. In my faith community, there are two great commandments: Love God and neighbor (even enemies). It’s a difficult balance, but when I manage it, I experience freedom from fear, a major reason that I joined the church in the first place. Those two basic rules have held up well, especially as my neighborhood has expanded to include the whole world.
Our nation’s founders understood the relationship between freedom and community well, and they hammered out a system of united states in which each would give up some autonomy in order to become a nation strong enough to, among other things, secure basic personal freedoms.
Americans live by the rule of law, but it’s a flexible system. So far, 27 amendments have been added to our Constitution, and it’s not a perfect document yet. For example, we are still struggling with the difference between a person and a corporation. The basic theme, however, persists: Our freedoms are guaranteed by our community.
Taxes and gun control are controversies that highlight the tension between individual freedom and community welfare. Whereas my faith community relies on donations, I know of no government supported by charity. A progressive system requires people with a lot of money to pay a higher tax rate than those with little. The “greatest generation” lived with such a system 50 years ago, making sacrifices for the common good. I also believe that the Second Amendment needs work — if interpreted to give us freedom to amass private arsenals in our homes, there’s not much hope for our community.
Both secular and faith communities are based on stories and traditions that give members an identity. Ideally, we identify with several groups and feel free to come and go as our needs change or the direction of the organization changes. I cannot easily leave my country, but when I feel the nation is going in the wrong direction, I exercise my privilege and responsibility to vote for different representatives and policies.
I believe our freedom and communities are alive and well, locked in an awkward but vibrant dance that will continue as long as we are willing to hear the music and reach out to new partners.