Is freedom free?

I attended two services in South Dakota, in the heartland, on this Fourth of July Sunday. Both had the same theme of “freedom isn’t free” woven into the service. At one of the services, there was this interesting exchange during the children’s service. The children’s service is a time for the kids to go up to the front and hear a message designed for the kids. From my experience, the children’s services is by far the most entertaining portion of any service.

Worship Leader: Is freedom free?
Kids [in enthusiastic unison]: Yeeeeesssss!
Worship Leader [chuckling]: Well, the kids say “yes” but all the adults are nodding their heads “no.” How abut this question: Who gave us our freedom, kids?
Kids [varying confident answers by some, mystified looks from others]: “God!” and “Jesus did!”
Worship Leader [continuing with the good humored chuckling]: It was our wars, wasn’t it? And the people who fought in the wars, they sacrificed for our freedoms.

Interestingly, the kids seem to have expressed a more modern, Enlightenment perspective on freedom: that freedom is a right, inherent in each person and not dependent upon whether or not the state or any other authority grants that freedom. Those of us in the U.S. have always affirmed this, on paper at least. We’ve also gone a step further and believed that violence and war is necessary to secure freedom. Hence the idea that “freedom isn’t free.”

Certainly there is are dictators and totalitarian regimes bent on power for the sake of power, whose aim is to crush freedom. The problem is that war and violence extract their own cost on our spiritual and psychological freedom, not to mention our economic freedom. When most of the national treasury is dedicated to the military, then we find ourselves spending our resources in the effort to kill and destroy.

These days, the U.S. has a standing army of professional soldiers. Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson believed it was vital to have a “no standing army” clause included in the Bill of Rights. These days, not only do we have a standing army, but many people make the military their whole career. We also have what Dwight D. Eisenhower called a “military industrial complex,” that is, a massive economic industry dedicated to developing weapons of destruction and mass destruction.

While we in the U.S. are desperately in need of budget cuts, cutting military spending is politically impossible, although we are currently spending nearly $700 billion on national defense. The question, of course, is what are we defending? We are the most safe nation in the world. There may be times when self-defense is necessary, though deeply regrettable. In what way, though, is our current expenditure of blood and treasure making us more free? In what way do these expenses make us more spiritually or psychologically free?

I understand the complexity of the issues, regarding retaliation and self-defense; however, I tend to agree with Jefferson….and I think at this point, I’m siding with the kids in church.

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Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

One thought on “Is freedom free?”

  1. It’s true that freedom isn’t free … but even if all 300 million Americans paid our $1.05 that freedom’s worth, that’s still not enough to cover the cost of the military industrial complex 😦


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