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Freedom, however, can only be sustained if people have the capacity to govern themselves with principles and self-control. Without these inner characteristics, a healthy democracy cannot be sustained.
Many people falsely interpret freedom to be their right to do whatever they want, however they want. This self-centered attitude can only be fulfilled at the painful expense of others. The more proper definition of freedom is the ability to do what we should do, not the right to do what we want to do.
The founders of the United States understood that only self-governing men and women could maintain freedom. A friend of mine who owns Noah Webster's original 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language claims that "government" was originally defined as the ability to control one's own thoughts and actions. Lesser ancillary definitions included religious and community organizations designed to rule over people, but the primary definition began with the independent individual exercising control over his or her behavior in a constructive, civil manner.
The significance was that self-government alleviated the need for external enforcement. When that characteristic breaks down, external authorities must intervene to avoid chaos or mob rule. Because of the lack of self-governance today, we live in a chaotic world.
Today, we are witnessing firsthand the abuse of our freedom of speech, press and religion. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited and applauded by students of Columbia University under the banner of "free speech," yet the Minuteman organization that helps guard our borders was shouted off the same stage on which the killer of our soldiers freely spouted his propaganda. Katie Couric reported as hard news that President Bush intentionally misled the world into the Iraq war when, in fact, that is simply her own personal opinion. (Of course, this type of journalism has become the modus operandi for a news media that seeks to shape viewers' beliefs rather than report the facts.)
Various talk radio programs are under scrutiny with the threat of losing their freedom because they said something "inappropriate." The example of screaming "fire" in a crowded theatre illustrates a real abuse of freedom of speech, but freedom also suffers when the media continually airs loud screaming matches between opposing forces that demonize those who hold legitimate opinions.
The "free press" often makes people famous who shouldn't be famous. Some extreme views need to be ignored. They appear to have only one guiding principle: Stir enough controversy to get a bigger audience for increased ad revenue. Truth doesn't matter. Misleading the people is not a concern. The national news media fails to admit their bias as they manipulate and misrepresent. What could be more abusive of freedom?
We certainly see the abuse of "freedom of religion" in the Middle East by those who are determined to impose and establish their particular theological position at the expense or extermination of all dissenters. In our own country, the regularity of scandals involving priests and ministers attests to the damage that can be done because of a lack of self-control. Preachers must have the right to proclaim their beliefs, but not the right to abuse others through their position and platform. Across the spectrum of our most sacred freedoms, we see the inability to self-govern.
If we are really free, it becomes difficult to control this excessive activity. The danger lies in the perpetuation of unprincipled people who cannot control themselves, leading to the disintegration and dismantling of the very freedoms that allowed the situation.
If we are going to maintain and protect freedom, it will be preserved by those who understand how precious and meaningful it is, yet remain cognizant of how easily it can be abused. Those who do what is right in their own sight and fail to comprehend that there are irrefutable principles for life will destroy the possibilities freedom offers.
Freedom gives individuals the right to prove their foolishness. But when society allows abusers of freedom to lead the masses, we will soon suffer the consequences rightly predicted in the Bible, "professing themselves to be wise, they become fools." We live in a time when life as we know it could vanish before our eyes because of the foolish abuse of our precious freedoms.
Author: James Robison
Word Count: 756
About the author: James Robison is the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International, a Christian media ministry and mission relief organization. He and his wife, Betty, host of the television program Life Today; He has authored numerous books, including The Absolutes: Freedom's Only Hope and True Prosperity.
Media Contact: Randy Robison, editor at jamesrobison.net
Photo available upon request. Reprint rights granted with attribution for complete, unedited article. Revisions allowed only with approval.