Iceland, Pornography, and What Liberty Doesn’t Mean

Is freedom license to act solely based on our own judgments, or should freedom enable us to act well?

Iceland is trying to ban internet pornography, and people all over the world are outraged. Supporters think it’s a good idea that will protect children and women; opponents don’t like the consequent implications against the freedom of speech and expression. While the US has not started a national campaign to ban internet pornography, many of the hot-button issues on our own political table revolve around the same question: What kinds of freedom (and how much of it) should we support? The debate is equally sticky in Christian circles. Should we vote against same-sex marriage, abortion, or free-reign of internet pornography? Should we force our “morality” onto others who don’t want it?

Some have argued that morality differs significantly from legality—what we desire as Christians is different from how we should vote, because we live in a secular society. Our opposition to same-sex marriage doesn’t mean we should ban it for others. We live in a free country, and need to support freedom, even if we don’t necessarily agree with what freedom allows. If the majority of US citizens were Muslims, we wouldn’t want laws passed which would force us to go to mosque every Friday. In the same way, we shouldn’t force our own ideals onto others.

Should we even care about political freedom, when we have freedom in Christ? Absolutely. While we are citizens of Heaven first and foremost, we are also citizens of a nation, and our votes (or lack thereof) impact our daily lives. As a result, we should be very interested in the freedoms our country values. We need to uphold the liberty that so many have given their lives to safeguard. We also have to make sure that we aren’t unduly pushy—parading around with “Turn or Burn” signs is not the best method of showing Christ’s love.

However, does that really mean that we should vote against our convictions as Christians? I think not. The heart of the subject is really about freedom—is freedom license to act solely based on our own judgments, or should freedom enable us to act well?

When we talk about “freedom,” we usually mean that people can do whatever they want without the fear of punishment or consequence. This definition is disastrous in the context of laws and the government. It pits the law against freedom, giving anarchists exclusive right to its claim. John Locke, the British philosopher whose ideas influenced both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, has a different notion of freedom. He claims that a human’s ultimate end is happiness, but that no one can be happy without being part of a civil government precisely because of anarchy. The lack of laws enables people to do whatever they want— enslave, steal, murder—without restraint, and everyone is left to defend their lives and property in fear. Only within a system of laws are people safe enough to pursue their ultimate end:

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