The end of a military occupancy or a king’s tyrannical reign, overthrowing of a colonial regime, or escaping annexation – usually, these the are the momentous events that mark the stepping of a country or people into political freedom. This is then commemorated as Independence Day in that country, and is celebrated every year as a reminder of past tribulations as well as of the sacrifices of visionary leaders that led to its independence.
A pertinent question is, “Why has history witnessed such long and hard struggles for independence, undertaken at such heavy costs to the people who were involved?” This basic striving that people feel at the core of their being is because human beings are created to be equal, thus imbuing them with the inalienable right to be free from domination of fellow-humans. Moreover, political freedom is vital for the progress of a nation. It gives the people of that nation the ability to pursue their self-defined goals with minimal constraints from others and the state. We all would want that, wouldn’t we?
Fighting the good fight and earning the right to be called the free citizens of a country is seen as a big achievement. And rightly so! But is this the ultimate good? Will it ensure lasting joy for a populace? Achieving freedom ‘from’ domination is an important first step, but what makes it meaningful is when a nation is able to ask the hard questions pertaining to what this freedom is ‘for’, what purpose it serves. These are the questions that can help a nation strive towards, justice, equality, fraternity, and the welfare of all. Without such aims being accomplished, freedom will always be an incomplete project. As Fannie Lou Hamer so memorably said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
But with such ethical questions within a collective, there are other questions that arise, such as, “Whose justice?”, “Who decides what is right and wrong?”, “How do we understand the purpose of freedom?” Without a moral reference point that is transcendental (which stands above individual moralities), attempts to answer such questions can create conflict and turn into complete chaos. It is probably for such a transcendental moral reference point that some nations turned to God at the beginning of their journeys as independent entities.
This is also why the Bible defines true freedom as a combination of freedom from domination by other human beings and dependence on God. The Creator God, who has crafted humanity for a purpose, can also become the one who guides us and gives us a moral compass, as we use the free-will that he has given us to navigate towards that purpose. This is precisely what we need in order to flourish and experience true freedom, as individuals and as communities. As India celebrates her 77th Independence Day today, it may be worthwhile to dwell on this for a bit.