Freedom is the ability to do what you want and define life on your own terms. Christianity takes both of those away.
This is a very American (and modern) objection to Christianity. After all, the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is in the Declaration of Independence. It’s in the very DNA of our country (I’m not going to get off track here and delve into politics and all that, but it’s my belief that this phrase is widely misinterpreted today and has become a selfish and superficial attitude rather than the ground-breaking statement of political freedom it was meant to be).
So when a person becomes a Christian, do they have to give up their freedom? Don’t you become a slave to one group’s view of morality? Do you have to give up your voice and become just another sheep in the crowd?
Many people think becoming a Christian means just that.
I’d like to address this by looking at it in a couple different ways. First, what does the word “freedom” really entail? Is true freedom being free from all constraints and letting me do what I want? I think not. I think that exercising this kind of freedom is an illusion and actually leads to less freedom. For example, you’re perfectly free to eat anything and everything you want to without restraint, but acting on this kind of freedom inevitably leads to slavery. Soon you’ll weigh 300 pounds, have high cholesterol and diabetes, and very possibly die. This freedom will eventually take everything from you.
The movie Pinocchio has some great wisdom in this regard. On Pleasure Island, kids have complete freedom to do anything they want to do. Eat nothing but candy, play all day and stay up all night. Smoke, drink, and gamble. For awhile, it’s heaven on earth but as we all know, it’s really a trap. The boys eventually turn into donkeys (or jackasses, wink wink) and are sent off to be slaves, working in the mines or sent off to the circus.
We’re all slaves to something. Even the free-est of thinkers give their allegiance to something. The important thing is not to escape being a slave, but choosing what (or who) will be our master.
Being a Christian means giving our allegiance to the God who made us and designed us. This is the only kind of slavery that makes sense, since God knows how we work best. Choosing God as our Master and living the way He says is best actually leads us to more freedom, because we align ourselves with the way the Universe actually works, and the way human relationships were meant to function.
Think of a train. If you dump a train in the middle of a field, it gets stuck and can’t move anywhere. But put that same train on the tracks it was designed to run on, and see how far it can go! The train finds its freedom on the tracks, not off of them. Human beings are just like this.
Another way in which people object to Christianity is to say that the Christian community is too constraining. They have certain ideas about morality, and to be a part of the group you must follow them or risk being ostracized. This is true, I won’t deny it. But why people think that this only applies to Christianity or other organized religions has always kind of baffled me. The fact is that every community has standards. That’s part of what defines any community–a shared set of values. As Timothy Keller says in The Reason For God:
Any community that did not hold its members accountable for specific beliefs and practices would have no corporate identity and would not really be a community at all. We cannot consider a group exclusive simply because it has standards for its members. (p. 40)The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
Perhaps a better yardstick to judge a community by is not how stringent its moral standards are, but the results of living in that community. If a community leads its members to be more loving, more charitable, more neighborly, then I think we can agree it’s a positive community. It doesn’t really matter how strict its standards are if it leads its people to become better, kinder people. Conversely, a community which leads its members to condemn outsiders and attack those who disagree with them is not a good community to be in. They may have the loosest rules in the world, but if the spirit of it is arrogant and divisive, then that’s a negative community and makes the world a little (or a lot) darker.
You can find both types of community in the world today, and you’ll find them among all belief systems. Any Christian community that is ungracious and accusatory rightly deserves criticism for their attitude, as does any other community. And we know that this is clearly not the way Jesus intended His followers to live. His community was to be marked by love and compassion. Any Christian community who denies this (and they are out there) is simply wrong. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a degree in Biblical Studies to understand what Jesus means when He says:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.John 13:34-35
True freedom, then, is not the freedom from all rules and standards. True freedom is freedom for. For aligning yourself with the way the Creator designed you. For fulfilling your destiny. For loving others the way God has loved you.
All of us are a slave to something. Our freedom comes in choosing what we will allow to be our master. You must choose: choose whether to be a slave to sin, or to be a slave to the One who takes away all sin.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Cor 3:17)
Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
Falsehood aptly defended loses not its falsity.