September 5, 2006
In honor of those who died five years ago in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C., I want to initiate a series of entries on the meaning and promotion of freedom. If the idea itself bores you, I invite you, in particular, to stick around.
What goes down on these pages — what I write and the responses I post — will not be highfalutin speculation. It will neither be a regurgitation of post 9/11 political sound bites nor patriotic grandstanding in search of feel-good moments. Instead, we will make this forum a reflective and practical consideration of what all this talk of freedom is about and why, in these confusing times, separating substance from rhetoric matters so much.
On September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress. He was already pointing to hatred of freedom as the central motivation of terrorist organizations:
On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country...All of this was brought upon us in a single day — and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack… Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber — a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
Did the men who boarded the planes on the quiet morning of September 11 hate our freedom? Is that what moved them? Don’t answer just yet. Think about it. Did they go to their deaths freely because they couldn’t stand the idea of someone else being able to choose freely?
Last week President Bush launched a new series of speeches with the goal of fortifying support for military operations in the Middle East. His words to the American Legion National Convention leaned once again on freedom:
We've launched a bold new agenda to defeat the ideology of the enemy by supporting the forces of freedom in the Middle East and beyond. The freedom agenda is based upon our deepest ideals and our vital interests. Americans believe that every person, of every religion, on every continent, has the right to determine his or her own destiny. We believe that freedom is a gift from an almighty God, beyond any power on Earth to take away.
To Western ears, the fight for freedom rings of nobility-liberating people from bondage. After all, we can’t imagine a happy prisoner.
But what if, just what if, a whole population were to call for a state-enforced religion? What if masses of women were to prefer to be veiled? What if a given culture longed for a king or even a dictator?
Is any of that possible? Why? Why not?
We can only answer these very difficult questions if we clarify terms. What is freedom? Who is man?
Over the next week, we’ll try to get to the bottom of these and other questions you bring to my attention. We’ll then try to draw some conclusions. What does it mean to promote freedom here at home and abroad? What is the best way to do it?
I look forward to hearing from you, as you help me guide our discussion.
God bless, Father Jonathan