Love, Liberty and Licence

Two events caught my eye this morning: the release of Glen Ford after half a lifetime on Death Row for a crime he did not commit, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s call for a kind of Magna Carta of the internet. A man unjustly deprived of liberty and a man arguing for less government surveillance may not, at first sight, seem to have much in common, but I think they do; and rather surprisingly perhaps, I think they have something to tell us about Lent as well.

Mr Ford’s conviction was legally unsound but appears (I use the word advisedly) to reflect a deep-seated fear of African American violence. We could say he was condemned to death to ‘protect’ other, overwhelmingly white, citizens. Sir Tim’s  plea recalls the high ideals with which the internet began as a highway for free information exchange, and the grubbiness that has invaded it since. Governments the world over seek to listen in to ‘protect’ their citizens — and their own vested interests. So much for liberty, we say; we have over-reacted because we are afraid, and when we are afraid, we clamp down. It is all rather negative.

There is a problem, however, when liberty becomes licence and loses all moral restraint. Violence left unchecked makes everywhere unsafe for all citizens; an internet without any limitations becomes equally dangerous, allowing terrorism and abuse of others free rein. That is why we have laws and  means of enforcing them. I don’t suppose Mr Ford would argue that law should be abolished just because in his case it was abused, any more than Sir Tim would argue that there should be a complete free-for-all on the internet. Common sense demands that we place some restrictions on our own freedom in order to guarantee the freedom of all.

Lent is rather like that. We limit ourselves in some ways in order to experience a greater freedom, a freedom of spirit we may not always enjoy. We fast, limiting our use of food and drink, to know our reliance upon God, to hunger for him both literally and figuratively. We give time to prayer in order to experience the love of God; and we give alms in order to share that love with others. Love, not fear, is our motive; and the checks we place on our freedom are not negative but liberating. Lent is a most joyful season when we revel in the freedom that is ours as children of God. More than that, we look forward to the freedom that will one day be ours for ever in the Kingdom of God.

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1 thought on “Love, Liberty and Licence”

  1. Thanks for a timely reflection on events, which highlight that Lent is about a loving sacrifice that we make for a love and grace freely given from God.

    Miscarriages of justice and nothing new, but when they happen, how we react and treat those who’ve suffered such an event tells much about us individually and as a society. Mr Ford can never gain back those years in prison, but the system can treat him with compassion and generosity – I sincerely hope that there is also some form of apology and repentance from those responsible.

    As far as liberty goes, we are actually fortunate to live in a relatively free society. One where individual responsibility is taken for granted and even celebrated, but somehow there’s been a disconnect and it seems that individual responsibility has become confused with the liberty to do exactly what we like, with no thought for the consequences for ourselves or others. I’m not sure how this can be turned around, so resort to prayer and hopefully an example of responsible liberty that does no harm and is hopefully helpful to others. Something small and personal, but worth doing all of the same.

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