This brings us to the highest aspect of freedom: spiritual freedom. In the entire spectrum of human knowledge, exploration and aspiration to unlock the mystery of existence and find enduring happiness, there is only one key, one answer: spiritual freedom. It was stated clearly by Jesus when he said to his disciples, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). .
In other religions and sacred traditions, there is a similar understanding of spiritual freedom as freedom from self-ignorance and self-delusion, from vices and character flaws, from negative emotions, destructive compulsions and anything else which generates human unhappiness and prevents us from living God-centered or Spirit-centered lives of love and service to humanity. That perspective, which is the collective highest wisdom known to humanity, is called the Perennial Philosophy.
Spiritual freedom is what life is all about. Spiritual freedom based on understanding the absolute truth about the nature of reality: that is the goal which all major world religions and sacred traditions have for humanity. It is their common doctrine, their transcendent point of unity. They are in concord when they say that our Creator—our Divine Source—wants us to remove from ourselves all the spiritual blindness, self-centered thought and immoral behavior which separates us from the realization that we are one with the Divine Creator because that realization can transform the world into what it should be—heaven on earth.
Just as the world’s religions and sacred traditions have many names for God, so too they have various names for the spiritual truth which makes us free. The most common term in English is enlightenment.
The Declaration of Independence states the theory of freedom governing America, and it is based on the spiritual truth which sets us free. The Founders of America held two intimately related principles which they expressed in our founding document. First, God is the mighty author of our being and the ultimate moral authority for our laws and government. Therefore, we have a duty to reverently acknowledge God in our lives. Second, we are made in the image and likeness of our Creator. Therefore, by virtue of our spiritual nature, human beings are sacred, sovereign and inviolable. All else in our free society flows from that: our liberty, our equality, our rights, our justice, our human dignity and the primacy of the individual over the state. As James Madison put it in 1785, “before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe.”
From the American perspective, freedom is given to us by God, the source of freedom. It is given to be used responsibly to show forth God in our lives—that is, to glorify God, who is also the source of morality and law. God is the supreme lawgiver; the purpose of human life is to reflect the law of God and thereby glorify God. We have the free will to use our freedom irresponsibly and to break God’s law of moral, righteous living, but the divine purpose of freedom is to realize the presence of God in every aspect of our existence and to ever-deepen our capacity for expressing that realization. Therein alone can we find unalloyed happiness and ultimate certitude about human existence. That is the highest metaphysical wisdom of our nation. That is the spiritual truth on which America is founded.
All which follows from that philosophy of freedom is therefore based on the idea that we are primarily spiritual beings with a divine purpose and destiny. We are born free and morally equal, and are endowed by our Creator (not by people or any systems they devise) with rights which are inherent and inalienable. Government’s purpose, from the American perspective, is primarily to guarantee that freedom and those rights for all. Because the Founders believed that man was created in the image of God as a free, moral agent, it follows as a political corollary that man must be given as much freedom as possible, so that he may make moral choices within the context of freedom and apart from pressure or coercion.
Achieving that condition would be a seamless integration of internal and external freedom—a society of self-governing people whose thoughts, words and deeds are controlled by a profound sense of the truth which makes us free. Thomas Paine, author of the first American bestseller, Common Sense, which rallied the colonists to seek independence, recognized the linkage between the internal and external forms of freedom, so I’ll close with his comment. He said, “Spiritual freedom is the root of political freedom… As the union between spiritual freedom and political liberty seems nearly inseparable, it is our duty to defend both.”