The Security of Slavery

by Derrick G. Jeter

“If you want total security, go to prison. You’re fed, clothed, and given medical care. The only thing lacking is freedom.”
–Dwight D. Eisenhower, attributed
Security and freedom are mutually exclusive. Those who want liberty and security want something that never was and never will be. They are on opposite ends of the spectrum. You can either have one or the other, but you cannot have both; to gain one is to lose some of the other. Freedom brings responsibility and risk, a burden too heavy to carry for many, so they will give up their freedom for the promise of security.
This tension between security and freedom is illustrated in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov. Within the story, Dostoevsky places before his audience a legend called “The Grand Inquisitor,” in which a penetrating question is asked: what will produce happiness—security or freedom? The story revolves around the Cardinal of Seville and a man who turns out to be Jesus, returned to Spain in the 16th century and who raises a child from the dead.
One day, the Grand Inquisitor sees Jesus walking the streets of Seville, recognizes Him, and arrests Him. The Inquisitor accuses Jesus of damning humanity to the misery of suffering. By rejecting Satan’s temptations, the Inquisitor reasons, Jesus made a way for humanity to freely choose obedience or rebellion. If Jesus had only succumbed to Satan, He could have brought paradise on earth, giving humanity both security and happiness. Humanity, the Inquisitor argues, can’t handle and doesn’t want the responsibilities of freedom; humanity craves security instead. The Inquisitor says, “All that man seeks on earth . . . [is] someone to bow down to, someone to take over his conscience, and a means for uniting everyone at last into a common, concordant, and incontestable anthill.” [1]
Because Jesus refused Satan’s temptations and failed to give humanity what it really longed for—security and happiness—the church had to step in and provide it for them. The Inquisitor argues that when Jesus rejected “mystery” by not turning stones into bread, He refused to provide for humanity’s physical needs. So the church now takes care of them, because people will bow down to any person or institution who provides for their daily needs, making it easier to trust man rather than God. The Inquisitor also argues that when Jesus rejected the “miracle” by refusing to jump from the temple, even though God’s Word promised He’d be unharmed, He refused to provide an example to follow. Again the church stepped in because humanity wants to follow someone powerful; someone who can give them a sense of purpose and direction in their lives; someone to whom they can turn their consciences over, making it easier to depend on man rather than God. Finally, the Inquisitor argues that when Jesus rejected “authority” by refusing to worship Satan to gain the kingdoms of the earth, He refused to provide an ordered society. The church must now bring order out of chaos, because humanity wants someone who will unite humanity into one anthill. They will worship and serve anyone who can accomplish that, usually man rather than God.
All humanity need to do is give up their freedom—to bow, to give over their conscience, and to submit to an anthill existence. We are not puppets on a string. God made us free! Free to pursue the promise of security and happiness in the world, or free to risk all by believing security and happiness is found in God. With the one we’ll discover the pursuit leads to bondage, but the risk leads to liberty. For both the Lord and Benjamin Franklin would teach us: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” [2]
Fortunately, there was a generation that would shun the dubious promise of security in exchange for liberty and would fight for freedom. They answered the question, which brings happiness, security or freedom, as Jesus did in Dostoevsky’s story. They were willing to die for freedom instead of suffering the shackles of a false security. Their motto was simple and profound: “Live free, or Die.” For those of us in this generation, who would following in the courageous footsteps of our founding fathers, here is a new motto: “Be brave. Live free.”
[1] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Knopf, 1992), 257.
[2] Benjamin Franklin to Governor Morris of the Pennsylvania Assembly, November 11, 1755, as quoted in Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (New York: Simon & Shuster, 2003), 169.