To the Benefit of All
by Paul Walker
One of the things which drives the war against terrorism seems
to be the defence of freedom and of democracy. They are hailed as
absolutely good things. To be against the freedom of individuals in
western culture is almost unthinkable. Christianity is often hailed as the
champion of these rights.
It becomes a little more complex when we try to examine what we mean by
freedom. But it usually involves individual rights such as the right to
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and the right to live where I
want, travel where I want when I want. We are aware that some individuals
don�t have the money for such pursuits. So we add the idea of freedom to
make as much money as I want in order to fulfil all my other wants.
When we examine these freedoms, we might feel a little queasy as we are
aware that most of them do involve spending money. Perhaps it is therefore
not surprising that this notion of freedom is most celebrated chiefly in
Yet there are other freedoms. I once met a girl from Moscow in the
Soviet days. She told me that while we in the west had certain freedoms,
she was free to walk home alone at night through the streets of Moscow
without the fear of being molested.
Perhaps our freedoms are now beginning harm us. The freedom of
Brazilian farmers to destroy the rain forest in order to make a living is
one example. Though considering what they have done to their natural
environments, the richer nations are hardly in a position to criticise.
Again, take the example of travel. It is has been fairly conclusively
proven that we are helping destroy the planet with our overuse of fossil
fuels. In particular, the recent growth of air travel throughout the world
is doing untold damage to our environment.
How are we to stop this? Politicians seem paralysed because of their
commitment to freedom. The fact is that freedom to travel around the world
has become sacrosanct. To stop me doing so would restrict my freedom. Such
a thing is seen as bad.
Our obsession with personal freedom could end up destroying us.
This has perhaps been partly the result of our loss of religion. Most
people in the West, for very good reasons, have abandoned religion. They
realise that there is no God out there watching whether or not we behave
ourselves. For some this has led to a guilt-free and unbridled search for
self-satisfaction. In the past there was a sense that life had a deeper
purpose. This sense has been lost by some.
Whether or not there is an underlying meaning to existence, abandoning
the idea entirely could well lead to our destruction. We need to learn
that sometimes it is in our self-interest to limit freedom, to recognise
that the benefit of all is to the benefit of each.
As we create our own morality, no longer tied to ancient belief
systems, we need to be careful. Surely we can all agree that the
preservation of our planet with its bio-diversity is an important value.
If we no longer give the name "God" to that value, we need nevertheless to
recognise its existence as more than the sum total of personal, individual