Freedom expressed in acting for the good

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Don Moffat explores the right to freedom in a pandemic.

One of the significant issues raised by Covid-19 is its impact on our freedom. I write as someone who lives in Auckland and has recently moved from the restrictions of Level 3 to the slightly freer Level 2.5.

We are living in a strange situation where we have the freedom to travel again but, we are being told by politicians and experts in other parts of the country, that it is not a freedom we should too quickly exercise.

Globally, New Zealand has instituted some of the more stringent restrictions on individual freedom in an effort to control Covid-19. Most of the population has accepted the need, although there have been persistent voices arguing against the restrictions. In other countries infringement on freedom has been a matter of violent protest, at times in direct contravention of orders restricting mass gatherings.

Freedom is a very important part of our social and political world. We value our freedoms highly and are quick to defend them. Yet, we don’t often stop to ask about the nature of our freedom. What are we free from? What are we free for?

In an extraordinary article in Rolling Stone titled "The Unravelling of America", Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis argues that the Covid-19 pandemic is the trigger that will likely lead to the unravelling of the US as a superpower.

He claims that individual freedom has undermined the social fabric to the point that there is nothing to hold US society together. He says the "American cult of the individual denies not just community but the very idea of society". About the thousands who have ignored social restrictions he says: "Those who flock to the beaches, bars and political rallies, putting their fellow citizens at risk, are not exercising freedom: they are displaying.the weakness of people who lack both the stoicism to endure the pandemic and the fortitude to defeat it."

Davis contrasts the American reaction to the pandemic with that of Canada, which he says is founded on three fundamental principles of social democracy. They are: a living wage, access to education and universal healthcare. These, he argues, counteract social division, therefore aiding cohesion. Davis concludes: "the measure of wealth in a civilised nation is not the currency accumulated by a lucky few, but rather the strength and resonance of social relations and the bonds of reciprocity that connect all people in a common purpose."

Freedom is at the heart of the biblical message. The great paradigm of divine action in the world is the story of the Exodus, the release of Israelite slaves from captivity. Later, using the words of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus described his mission as including the release for captives (Luke 4:18). What Jesus declared was a message of good news that offered a way for release from both internal constraints of our own sinful attitudes and actions and the external forces of oppression.

The Apostle Paul, writing in the New Testament, describes living as a Christian in terms of freedom. Yet paradoxically he argues that such freedom necessitates becoming a slave. He writes: "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another" (Gal 5:13). This exhortation is in the context of supporting the faith of fellow Christian believers, but it is based on the notion of working for the common good.

Paul’s call to "become slaves" is not theoretical; many early Christians were slaves. Against the stark reality of slavery Paul was convinced that faith in Christ offered a freedom that could not be constrained by circumstances. For Christians in particular, external restrictions should not be an impediment to living in the freedom of Christ. A freedom that needs to be expressed in acting for the greater good.

There were a number of Christian missionaries in Papua New Guinea during World War 2 who refused to leave in the face of the advancing Japanese forces. They believed they could not exercise the freedom to leave when the people they were called to serve faced hardship. All suffered and several were executed but their solidarity with the indigenous people left a lasting impression.

Covid-19 has restricted our civil freedoms but it does not need to restrict our freedom. It certainly should not restrict our freedom to choose the good of the other, particularly for the more vulnerable among us. Whether people of faith or not, willingly sacrificing some immediate freedoms for the greater good is a true measure of our social wealth.

 - Dr Don Moffat is the Sir Paul Reeves Lecturer in Biblical Studies at St John’s College in Auckland and visiting lecturer at the University of Otago.

Comments

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'Lincoln freed them'.
Slavery existed in the Chatham Islands until the 1860's.

Protest is oppositional defiance. The only way to defy a global virus is by getting with the imposed programme.

We have to be able to distinguish between two different disasters: the disaster of the virus itself and the disaster wrought by the ways that the government responds—and does not respond—to the pandemic. It will be a grave mistake to throw ourselves at the mercy of the government, blindly trusting that they exist to save us. They exist solely to protect our rights and freedoms. The government intends to use this opportunity to impose new controls on our rights and freedoms. Rather than placing blind faith in the state, we must focus on what we can do with our own agency, looking back to previous precedents for guidance on how to deal with the pandemic while protecting our rights and freedoms. We need a way of responding to this crisis based in mutual aid—that doesn’t grant even more power and legitimacy to the tyrants running the government! Freedom is a God-given gift. No man or government can take it unless we allow them to.

Dr. Moffat, you seem to be OK with the government stepping into our lives in a moment's notice and taking away our freedoms but not everybody feels that way. God alone is the source of liberty and freedom. These are God-given gifts that no man has the right to take away. A very famous American by the name of Patrick Henry once said: “Give me liberty or give me death!” His words ignited the American Revolution, which resulted in the freedoms Americans now enjoy. The laws of nature entitle mankind to freedom. Perfectly epitomized as: these truths are self-evident and all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The role of government is to secure these rights instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Our right to Liberty and freedom comes from God! You seem to believe our rights come from the government instead of God. If you want to give up your right to freedom, go ahead. But dont demand that I must do the same. The restrictions the goverment demands are more like existing than living free. I wont give up my God given rights!

The sheepeople here in New Zealand will voluntarily give up their God-given rights so long as they can yap about the weather and brag about being able to fix anything with number 8 wire. The way to a Kiwis heart is through government subsistence and handouts. We are a sad, pathetic people!

Seems the ODT has a lot of believers among it's readers. Let's put that in some sort of perspective shall we: less than 40% of the population believe in your God and by inference do not accept your contention that you have "God Given" rights.
You live in a Democracy. Just for clarity let's remind everyone that a democracy is where the the decision of the majority is the decision of us all.
In NZ the majority is represented by the Govt of the day. If they pass a law, make a regulation or decree, then you, whether you agree with it or not, whether it cuts across your so called "God Given" rights or not, have to comply with it. That is called your duty, it is a consequence of living in a democracy and if you ignore it or break the rules you do so at your peril and will, deservedly, be ostracized.
To thumb your nose at the majority or to willfully act against them is anarchy and you are by definition an anarchist. Following that path does not lead to liberty and freedom, it leads to repression, tyranny and slavery.

The most godless cities in America, by census, are Portland, Seattle and San Francisco. Majority opinion does not guarantee success. We are not ruled by Majority anyway. MMP was designed to let the minority rule the majority.

You are patently wrong. NZ is ruled by a majority. Any new law needs a majority in parliament in order to receive the royal assent. The country is ruled by a majority. You can quibble about how the majority is made up but that is what it is a quibble. MMP was designed to ensure that all NZers had a chance for the party they support to be represented in Parliament. If those small minority parties have the opportunity to influence the majority then the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. You need to expand your reading.

There are some things worse than death.

The submission to the Covid God witnessed as white coated Karens, pink haired hectoring scientists, a salad days green Prime Minister is a dangerous precedent. Submission is cowardly.

I understand your proposition, that there can be freedom from within slavery. It was Solzhenitsyn who described with wonder the occasional free soul he met in the gulags of Russia doing a tenner for nothing. Inevitably they were Orthodox. Or, the fictional character of Raskolnikov, sentenced to prison for his axe murder of the pawnbroker, and his long suffering rescuer, Sonja "She has such faith that there must be righteousness everywhere and she expects it … And if you were to torture her, she wouldn’t do wrong. She doesn’t see that it’s impossible for people to be righteous and she is angry at it. Like a child, like a child. She is good!"

But that is why we have poetic verse, literature, bibles, wisdom. To learn so that we do not end up in the gulag before we need to. For the wise. The world actions by civilian govts of whatever stripe will amount to the most egregious destruction of civil liberties in a 1000 years. The perpetrators will be punished.

Really, you're only being asked to go with health protocols, Until there is no Risk. To make a Federal Case out of it is, frankly, extremist.

September 11 was in 2001. Yet we still shuffle through Airport Security like criminals 20 years later. The State will not want to relinquish their tyrannical powers to lock us in our homes. We need to take back freedom to board a plane without fear. These new Covid enforcer laws should be burnt in a hot forge. We need to reject the totalitarian control that governments have wielded. This new spell of Covid has been hijacked by tyrants.

Who shuffles? You've got a nerve saying everyone's cowed. The Independent Spirit belongs to the Strong minded. Mordant fatalism is the tool of the putative demagogue, who would have the world aligned with his World View, by insurrection.

Goodness me! What a strange outlook. You don't seem to know what totalitarian controls are. Totalitarian means a single leader, no opposition. If we had totalitarian control you wouldn't be expounding your specious arguments on a newspaper website, you'd be on your way to the gulag, your feet wouldn't touch the ground.
I think most normal NZers might be annoyed and impatient at the security controls around boarding flights but I suspect they understand why it is still required and if they were removed as you suggest they should be, they would be boarding planes in absolute fear.
Far from Covid19 controls being hijacked by tyrants it is those countries where tyrants do actual rule that are being hardest hit, I mean, look at the USA, you can't get more tyrannical than impeached president trump. Tyrants just don't care about their people.
We live in a part of the country that is at Covid19 level 1. None of us are being locked in our homes, in fact there are no restrictions on us. The only restrictions are affecting those coming across our borders.
Stop spouting this absolute nonsense garnered from the worst of the right wing hate sites.

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