Freedom is a Means, Not an End

Today is Memorial Day, which means celebration (summer!), remembrance, and patriotism. It means honoring those who died in uniform, flags flying, and my Facebook feed filled with friends offering thanks for their freedom.

I have to admit, how we commemorate Memorial Day always feels somewhat . . . incomplete. Not that I think soldiers who have died serving their country don’t deserve to be honored, and not because I think that people’s sentiments about their freedoms are insincere. It just always feels like there’s a piece that’s missing when we talk about freedom.

Years ago, I read a quote that stuck with me word for word. I looked it up and found it in a book about Herman Melville by Cyril Lionel Robert James. I have no idea who he was or what the book is about, but the quote still sticks:

It is not the primary aim and chief blessing to be politically free. Freedom is only good as a means. It is not an end in itself.”

I really love that. We tend to celebrate freedom itself—and yes, the fact that we are free to speak and believe and live as we choose (for the most part) is no small thing.

But it’s not complete to me unless we examine what that freedom actually means, not just in definition, but in practice. Freedom isn’t just about being able to enjoy a barbecue in our backyard and collect patriotic desserts on Pinterest. It’s not even just about being able to vote for our leaders, believe what we want, and speak our minds.

Freedom is power. And power, by its very nature, must be used wisely and judiciously.

I would argue that how we choose to use our freedom is almost as important as freedom itself. If we view freedom merely as a personal and collective end, and not as a means for making positive changes in the world around us, then we are not fully realizing the value in it.

If we use our freedom to amass material gain at the expense of other human beings, is that really a freedom worth dying for? If we use free speech to spout hatred or intolerance, are we truly honoring those who died fighting for that freedom? If freedom of belief means stubbornly refusing to try to see the other side and clinging desperately to creeds that serve to separate rather than unify, can we truly say we’re making the most of that right?

I’d like to think that those soldiers we honor today died fighting for something more than our right to do and say what we want. I’d like to think they sacrificed their lives so that we can speak our minds, but also speak out for those who have no voice. So that we can believe what we want, but also use that freedom to investigate and understand other viewpoints. So that we can enjoy a burger on our back porch, but also provide for those who struggle the world over with homelessness and hunger.

For you, brothers, were called to freedom. Only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity to gratify your flesh, but through love make it your habit to serve one another.” —Galatians 5:13

In that spirit, I humbly offer a few ways to use our freedom for good and to express gratitude for those freedoms by giving. There are so many great organizations doing amazing work in the world, so please feel free to share them. There are also myriad ways to serve without giving money, but since this medium is best suited to online info, here are a few suggestions that I can personally recommend:

  • To honor our freedom of education, consider a donation to the Mona Foundation, which funds grassroots educational projects around the world. 100% of donations to specific projects go directly to those projects.
  • To honor our freedom of the press and our excellent public library system, consider a donation to my friends’ community library project in the Dominican Republic. They’re making a huge difference in their community, providing books and education to kids who wouldn’t otherwise have access. You can donate via PayPal through Learn Across Borders here
  • To honor the freedoms our children enjoy, consider a donation to Love 146 to help kids who have been sexually trafficked and exploited. Wonderful work being done by this organization run by the family behind Steady Mom and Simple Homeschool.
  • To honor our freedom of speech, help give a voice to women who are victims of violence and oppression by donating to the Tahirih Justice Center. They provide legal protection and services to immigrant women fleeing violence. 

Let’s honor those who died for our freedoms with more than patriotic platitudes, and celebrate this holiday by using our freedom as a means to a greater end.

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

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