“They promise them freedom while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” – 2 Peter 2:19
As we Americans celebrate our beloved freedom, perhaps we should pause to consider what that means. In the context of human rights, the American Declaration of Independence states that humans are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Or as my old-fashioned Webster’s dictionary defines it, freedom is “personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery.” Slavery, then, can be defined as a condition of being in bondage, subjected to another – or the exact opposite of freedom.
Several years ago political columnist Peggy Noonan made an observation in one of her articles about “the American dream” that I thought worth saving. In it she wrote, “There is pervasive confusion about what the American dream is. We seem to have redefined it to mean the acquisition of material things – a car, a house, and a pool. That was not the meaning of the American dream a few generations ago. The definition then was that in this wonderful place called America, you can start out from nothing and become anything. [In other words] It was aspirational.”
Ms. Noonan, I thought, masterfully described the distinction between slavery and freedom. That is, if the so-called American dream can be distilled down to nothing more than materialism, that’s slavery pure and simple, a state of bondage, maybe not the kind of institutional slavery our country once shamefully allowed, but bondage nonetheless. Instead, if we still have the opportunity to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as our Founding Fathers declared, we can continue to be aspirational toward becoming our best selves – and freedom still exists in America.
While I do agree that materialism has infiltrated our culture to an alarming degree, I have the privilege of meeting and working with aspirational people every day, folks pursuing the “American Dream” as it was intended. May that always be the freedom we celebrate, not the slavery of our possessions. May we learn, grow, and prosper, serving one another and God as we were created to do, and encourage our children to do the same.