~ Written by Joelle Hodge ~
Why have men always longed to be free? As we celebrate Veterans Day, I find myself thinking again about the nature of freedom. Whether I look at Christianity, the nature of a free society, or liberal arts education I find myself asking the same questions: Where did the fundamental desire for freedom originate? Why is liberty so closely tied to what it means to be human? How can it be that freedom has been prized throughout the centuries regardless of culture? Why is liberty so costly? And why are some willing to sacrifice so much so that others can have it?
These are the questions I ponder as I think about the sacrifices made by our veterans. John 15:13 reminds us that “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” We see that even first century Christians (recently experiencing the greatest sacrifice through Christ’s death and resurrection) were articulating an ages old truth: Sacrifice is love, and love is often costly. The men and women of our armed forces evidence for us this sacrificial love.
Everywhere in the news when I see members of our armed forces (and sadly, this is all too frequent), I am reminded that they have answered “yes” to the call to lay down their life for their country. Of course they don’t personally know me, or you. And yet they serve for us, in our place; thousands of them: sons and daughters, fathers and mothers. I wonder what they think when they see our society. I wonder how they wish we would use the freedom we have been given.
To isolate freedom to one single purpose would be reductionist and an oversimplification. But, it might be safest to say that our use of freedom ought to help us and our fellow man avoid the bonds of slavery, in whatever forms it might come. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). I imagine our veterans might hope for something similar. At great cost they secured this liberty, it would be a sad devaluation of their sacrifice for us to return to bondage.
Our opportunity to live in a free society, then, requires something of us. So, what do we need to do in order to avoid “submitting again to the yoke of slavery” in our own lives? This is where l believe the liberal arts comes alongside a life of faith to equip us for living. Historically, and long before the birth of Christ, the artes liberales (the liberating arts) were offered to free men to help them become good citizens and to pursue a life of arete (excellence). A liberating education would not have been offered to slaves (or women) because they were not offered the opportunity to contribute to society in the same ways as free men. They could not hold positions of power, of leadership, or in the structuring of society.
Today such demographic limits are not in place, and a free life is offered to all of us. Therefore, it is our responsibility to offer all of our children a paideia education, one where we focus on the development of the whole person –– including the virtuous formation of the soul. While the earliest practitioners of a liberal arts education could neither claim to know or understand the Gospel, they did inherently know and prefer a life of freedom to a life of slavery; and they wanted to prepare for it. They knew they would need specific tools, refined over a lifetime, to make valuable contributions to their society, strengthen it, and to set that society on course to survive into the future.
The work you do as parents, providing a liberal arts education, participating in the renewal of classical education, is part of that great tradition, of valuing the legacy of freedom we have been given. You do this by raising men and women of faith, virtue, knowledge, and wisdom. And with these tools, our children will participate in the strengthening, shaping, and endurance of our society. Thank a veteran for this opportunity to live free!